CINCINNATI -- The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the hate-crime convictions of the defendants in the Ohio Amish beard- and hair-cutting attacks.
In its order Wednesday morning, the court wrote: "The defendants' various hate-crime convictions are REVERSED, and the case is REMANDED to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion of this court."
That would return the case to the U.S. District Court in Cleveland and federal Judge Dan Polster.
All 16 of the Amish convicted in the hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow members of their faith in Ohio appealed their convictions.
All 16 were sentenced Feb. 8, 2013 in federal court in Cleveland and almost immediately they asked the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to reverse their convictions.
The defendants challenged the constitutionality of the federal hate-crimes act as overly broad, a claim rejected by Polster in 2012 before the trials began.
Ringleader Samuel Mullet Sr. was sentenced to 15 years and the co-defendants, all members of his extended family, got sentences of one year to seven years.
A jury convicted them of attacks in apparent retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet's authoritarian style.
The focus of the trial centered on Mullet, leader of a breakaway Amish sect in Bergholz, Ohio, where about 20 Amish families live on his 880-acre farm. The community is about 100 miles southeast of Cleveland near the West Virginia border.
"I am being blamed for being a cult leader," Mullet said Friday. "If somebody needs to be punished, I'll take the punishment for everybody."
In addition to the conspiracy charge, Mullet was convicted last year on six additional counts, including lying to the FBI, for planning the attacks, which were likened to animals being shorn.
The sentencing came after more than four hours during which the U.S. attorney and the defendants had the chance to address the court. Mullet could have received a life sentence.
Mullet's sons asked that they be allowed to serve the time for their father. The judge gave them sentences from five to seven years. Others convicted were sentenced to as little as a year and a day up to seven years in federal prison.
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.
During the trial, prosecutors and witnesses in U.S. District Court in Cleveland described how Mullet's sons pulled a father out of bed and chopped off his beard in the moonlight and how women followers of Mullet surrounded their mother-in-law and cut off 2 feet of her hair, taking it down to the scalp in some places.
"It's a cult," said Arlene Miller, 48, of Carrollton, Ohio, whose husband is an Amish bishop and was a victim of the beard cuttings. "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."
The five cutting attacks on a total of nine victims took place between September and November 2011.
Hair and beards have enormous religious symbolism for the Amish, and the government portrayed the attacks as hate crimes. The defense admitted the cuttings took place but characterized the incidents as a family feud.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach issued the following statement:
We respectfully disagree with the two judges who reversed the defendants' hate crime convictions based on a jury instruction. We remain in awe of the courage of the victims in this case, who were subject to violent attacks by the defendants. We are reviewing the opinion and considering our options.