The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Breaking News

World, nation, state

April 10, 2013

Amish gather a last time before prison terms start

BERGHOLZ, Ohio — Bare feet and work boots shuffle on the wooden floor of the Amish schoolhouse as the children settle into tight rows of scuffed metal desks across the room from their parents — the men on one set of benches, women on another, some cradling younger children.

They’ve gathered to celebrate the end of school, but no one claps or cheers. The only voices raised are those of the students as they begin singing, the melodies rising and dipping like the surrounding hills. A warm breeze carries the religious lyrics, mostly in German, through the open windows and over the fields where families will mingle afterward.

The ceremony is typically in late April, but this school year was cut short to allow some youngsters a few more days of family time before their parents leave for federal prison.

Come Friday, four women and one man from this tight-knit group in rural eastern Ohio will enter the prison system in various states, joining nine already behind bars on hate crimes convictions for hair- and beard-cutting attacks against fellow Amish.

That timing made Tuesday’s event the last big gathering before the five depart, and the participants gave The Associated Press a rare glimpse into their largely insular community. Men played baseball in buttoned shirts, work boots and blue pants with suspenders. Their wives, some barefoot, sat outdoors on benches from the schoolhouse, chatting as their long-sleeved, blue and green dresses and white head scarves fluttered in the wind. Their children snacked and relaxed nearby, dressed like smaller versions of their parents.

“It’s a happy day on the outside, but not on the inside. On the inside, a lot of times we’re crying, but we have to keep our spirits up for the children’s sake,” said Martha Mullet, whose husband, Sam Mullet Sr., was accused of orchestrating the hair-cutting attacks and was sentenced to 15 years, the longest term of the 16 defendants in the case.

She said she believes the government is trying to split up the community, but members are determined to ensure the survival of the breakaway group her husband founded.

Those who were attacked allege he led in authoritarian style, and at least one person described it as a cult where members’ “minds were programmed in the wrong way by Sam Mullet.”

Mullet’s family denounces that description. Such communities typically limit interaction with news media, but members of Mullet’s group in Bergholz said they were willing to talk because they feel they’ve been treated unfairly by the justice system.

The Amish, who shun many facets of modern life, are deeply religious and believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry, which means cutting the hair would be shameful and offensive.

Prosecutors brought hate crimes charges because they said they believed the attacks were spurred by religious differences.

The defendants don’t deny the hair-cuttings — some say they regret what happened, others don’t — but contend they stemmed from family disputes that should have been handled internally. They say they’re bound by different rules guided by their religion, that the government had no business getting involved in what they did and that calling it a hate crime was overreaching.

“We’re not exactly saying it was wrong, and we don’t say it’s right, either. ... It’s something that will never happen again, I can tell you that,” Wilma Mullet, a daughter of Sam Mullet. She was not among those charged.

All 16 defendants appealed, arguing the group’s conviction, sentencing and imprisonment in separate facilities as far away as Louisiana, Minnesota and Connecticut violates constitutional rights and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Prosecutors reject that argument.

The defendants say the distance to the facilities is too great to travel by horse-drawn buggy or even by using a hired driver, so most of their families likely won’t be able to visit. They plan to keep in touch through letters and occasional phone calls.

The five reporting to prison Friday said they are somewhat scared and unsure what to expect but are hopeful about being released early for good behavior. They’re sewing clothes, plowing ground and finishing other chores to make life easier for their loved ones while they’re gone. Two women, assigned to prisons in Minnesota, were bracing for their first plane ride.

Their departure will leave nearly three dozen children without one or both parents in a culture where the men and women have distinct roles, so the adults made alternative arrangements.

Linda and Emanuel Schrock’s oldest children will look after the younger ones while the Schrocks are imprisoned over the next two years. The spouses of Anna Miller and Freeman Burkholder and the 15 children combined from the two families will act as one household while Miller and Burkholder serve one-year sentences. The spouses are brother and sister, and the children all cousins.

Lovina Miller is beginning a similar sentence and giving Martha Mullet custody of her eight children until she returns because her husband is in Massachusetts on a seven-year sentence.

Before the trial, the Amish rejected plea agreements that offered leniency and might have helped young mothers avoid prison.

Several said Tuesday that they rejected deals either because they didn’t want to admit guilt to a hate crime charge or they didn’t want to testify against Mullet Sr. and say things they don’t believe.

The community members say they’re working together to ensure the group perseveres by handling chores that would have been the responsibility of the incarcerated members. The remaining men especially bear the burden of extra work, making home repairs and fixing fences and handling planting and harvesting. A 19-year-old grandson has taken over running Sam Mullet’s 700-acre farm.

“It’s hard, but I’m still surprised we can do as good as we do,” said Emma Miller, who leaves Friday for a prison in West Virginia.

She and the other new inmates also face big changes as they adjust to prison life. The women can wear jumper dresses, and they hope to continue wearing head scarves. Under the prison rules, the men can keep their beards.

1
Text Only
World, nation, state
  • U.S. blasts Israel for Kerry criticism

    The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

    July 29, 2014

  • Outlook on Medicare finances improves

    Medicare’s finances are looking brighter, the government said Monday. The program’s giant hospital trust fund won’t be exhausted until 2030 — four years later than last year’s estimate.

    July 29, 2014

  • Plan to simplify 2015 health renewals may backfire

    If you have health insurance on your job, you probably don’t give much thought to each year’s renewal. But make the same assumption in one of the new health law plans, and it could lead to costly surprises.

    July 28, 2014

  • Hospital shooting suspect charged with murder

    A man accused of fatally shooting his caseworker and grazing his psychiatrist at a suburban Philadelphia hospital complex before the doctor returned fire has been charged with murder.

    July 28, 2014

  • Man seeks video of Oklahoma City bombing

    One man’s quest to explain his brother’s mysterious jail cell death 19 years ago has rekindled long-dormant questions about whether others were involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

    July 28, 2014

  • Bill in Congress to help veterans with PTSD

    A group of lawmakers have joined together to help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Post Traumatic Brain Injury (PTBI) and other war injuries get speedy medical treatment — and avoid Veteran’s Administration bureaucracy and Department of Defense lack of accountability.

    July 28, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has fired rockets into Ukraine

    Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists also has crossed the border.

    July 28, 2014

  • U.S. says Russia is firing across border into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.

    July 25, 2014

  • Gaza sides agree to lull but truce efforts stall

     Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly.”

    July 25, 2014

  • Planes with Ukraine bodies arrive in Netherlands

    Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash site which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

    July 24, 2014

House Ads
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video