CLEVELAND -- A jury in Cleveland has convicted 16 Amish defendants, including the leader of a breakaway group, in a federal hate crimes trial for the beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish.
The jury reached its decision after deliberating just over 32 hours over five days.
The 16 members of the so-called Bergholz clan were all convicted on conspiracy for participating in some manner in the attacks which was compared to animals being shorn.
Hair and beards have enormous religious symbolism for the Amish.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach called the verdict a "triumph for one of the most basic and sacred freedoms in this country: freedom of religion."
"The defendents in this case were charged based upon their actions and their motivations. And their actions and motivations were to take away the religious freedom of other people," he said.
Dettelbach said the case was unique in that the crimes themselves were photographed, making compelling evidence for the jury.
"I had a lot of people asking me, you know, why is this being prosecuted? Why is this such a big deal?" said Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling. "We thought of it as a home invasion from the beginning. Thugs are thugs. Cowards are cowards. Doesn't make any difference what their religious trappings are."
Dettelbach says his office received numerous unsolicited letters from the Amish, detailing how they were frightened of the Bergholz clan.
Although the Amish are normally reluctant to contact authorities, Dettelbach said that, in this case, the victims did because they needed "the protection of the law."
"They didn't hesitate. Really, they wanted to try and help the people who live in Bergholtz and they wanted protection for themselves and any other future victim," said Federal Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.
"Make no mistake: This was a hate crime," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Anthony.
The trial centered on the leader of the Bergholz clan, Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, who was found guilty of planning the attacks last fall in Eastern Ohio in a dispute over religious differences.
Besides conspiracy, the jury convicted Mullet Sr. on six additional charges, including lying to the FBI on Nov. 22, 2011, when asked about the attacks.
Jurors acquitted him on two other counts, destroying a bag of hair brought back from one of the attacks and the Sept. 24, 2011, attack on David Wengard.
In fact, Count 3, the attack on Wengard, saw none of the other three defendants charged in that count guilty.
There are no mandatory minimum sentences for these crimes, but sentencing guidelines would give each defendant between 210 months to life in federal prison.
Defense attorneys had conceded the hair cuttings took place but argued that the government was overreaching by calling what happened hate crimes. They argued the cuttings were merely personal family disputes, so-called "family feuds." They say the convictions will be
U.S. District Judge Daniel Polster has set sentencing for 9 a.m.
January 24 and dismissed the jury telling them, "You are the most attentive jury I've had on my 14 years on the bench."
The five cutting attacks on a total of nine victims took place between September and November 2011 -- Sept. 6, Sept. 24, two on Oct. 4 and one of Nov. 9.
Here is a breakdown of the verdict on each count:
All 16 defendants were accused of Count 1
-- conspiracy -- for allegedly participating in one way or the other in the cutting of fellow Amish women's hair and Amish men's hair and beards. The jury convicted all 16 on this count. GUILTY
Five men and five women, including Mullet Sr., are charged with Count 2, attacking Martin and Barbara Miller on Sept. 6, 2011. ALL GUILTY
Mullet and four other men are charged in Count 3, the Sept. 24, 2011 attack on David Wengard. ALL FOUND NOT GUILTY
Mullet and five other men are charged with Count 4, attacking Raymond Hershberger and his son, Andy Hershberger, on Oct. 4, 2011. GUILTY
Five of the men are charged with Count 5, attacking Myron Miller on Oct. 4 as well. GUILTY. Jury acquits Lester Miller on this count.
Count 6 charges relate to the Nov. 9 attack on Melvin and Anna Schrock while the couple was visiting their children and grandchildren in Bergholz. GUILTY
In Count 7, Samuel Mullet Sr. alone is accused of destroying evidence -- a bag of hair brought to him from one of the attacks. NOT GUILTY
Count 8 has Mullet Sr., and three other men tampering with evidence, specifically, hiding the disposable camera that Eli Miller used to document the attacks. Sam Mullet, Eli Miller and Lester Mullet found GUILTY. Levi Miller found NOT GUILTY
Defendant Lester Miller is the only one charged with Count 9, trying to hide the mane-cutting shears used in the attacks. NOT GUILTY
Mullet Sr. is the only one of the defendants charged with Count 10, lying to the FBI when they interviewed him on Nov. 22 about the attacks. GUILTY