The ringleader in a series of unusual hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish religious followers in the US has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Before his sentencing, Samuel Mullet Sr told the judge that he had been blamed for running a cult and was ready to take the punishment. The judge also sentenced 15 other members of the deeply traditional group to prison terms ranging from one to seven years.
Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it would be offensive to the group.
The defendants were charged with a hate crime because prosecutors believe religious differences brought about the attacks.
"The victims were terrorised and traumatised," US District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster said. He added that the defendants had violated the constitutional rights protecting religious practice that had benefited them as Amish.
The 10 men and six women were convicted last year in five attacks in Amish communities in 2011. The government said the attacks were retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet's authoritarian style
The 67-year-old Mullet, his ankles in chains and a white beard down to mid-chest, said if his community is seen as a cult, "Then I'm going to take the punishment for everybody."
Defence attorneys have indicated that appeals are likely.
The government had asked for a life sentence for Mullet. The defence asked for two years or less.
Nine of 10 men who were convicted have been locked up awaiting sentencing. The six women, who all have children, have been free on bond.
In a rare interview last week, Mullet's unmarried 19-year-old grandson, Edward Mast, discussed the family's attitude. He said they are steadfast in the belief that the attacks didn't rise to the level of a hate crime.
"The beard, what it stands for me, what I know about it, once you're married, you just grow a beard. That's just the way the Amish is," Mast said.
As for the victims, he added, "They got their beard back again, so what's the big deal about it?"
Arlene Miller, 48, whose husband, an Amish bishop, was among the victims, thinks Mullet deserves a tough sentence and the others should get less time if they get cult deprogramming counselling.
"It's a cult," she said. "Their minds were programmed in the wrong way by Sam Mullet, so we feel like these people are very deceived and they are actually victims of Sam Mullet."
She said there were no winners in the ordeal.
"There's no happy ending to this," she said.
- (Live Matches)