MILLERSBURG -- Five members of a breakaway Amish group accused of forcefully cutting the beard of an Amish bishop in Ohio have hired a lawyer. The case against them has now been sent to felony court.
In a standard legal proceeding, Municipal Court Judge Jane Irving in Millersburg sent the case to Holmes County Common Pleas Court.
The defendants waived a preliminary hearing on the evidence Wednesday. The men were freed on bond last week.
"The five men I've met in this case are complete gentlemen with deeply founded Christian beliefs," said their newly hired lawyer Andrew Hyde, of Loudonville.
"I think a lot of the fear mongering is being done by others to try to show these gentlemen in a bad light," he told WKYC following the hearing.
Hyde said he was being paid by the five men, not by breakaway Amish bishop Sam Mullet of Jefferson County, who is widely thought to be the mastermind of a number of beard-cutting attacks across four Ohio counties.
Sam Mullet had posted $50,000 bond for each of the five men.
Hyde said the five Amish men he represents, including three sons of Sam Mullet, are no threat to the Amish or the general community.
"The experience I've had with them would cause me no fear at all," Hyde said. "I'd have them in my house tomorrow."
The five men, Johnny S. Mullet, Levi Miller, Lester S. Mullet, Eli Miller, and Daniel S. Mullet were charged with kidnapping and burglary for allegedly cutting the beard of bishop Ray Hershberger and his son in a revenge attack over church discipline.
"We've discussed the way they're charged now, the potential maximum penalty, but these charges no way indicate what the eventual indictment will be," Hoyt continued. "It could be more charges, less charges, more serious charges, or less serious charges."
"We won't know until they're indicted what we are actually fighting."
Holmes County Sheriff Timothy W. Zimmerly attended the hearing, along with a number of members of the local Amish and Mennonite communities, who are still concerned about both their safety and the image of the Amish.
"They're rightfully concerned and so are we," Zimmerly said, "and we have elevated our patrols in certain areas of the county because of this. We haven't let our guard down but obviously we're watching and we have some people concerned about it."
"A lot of the concerns are legit," Zimmerly added, "and obviously the whole community is involved in this, especially the Amish and Mennonite community. That's who it affects the most."
Devon Miller, a Mennonite man from nearby Holmesville, attended the hearing, concerned about the bad rap the Amish community has been getting because of the alleged actions of Sam Mullet's followers.
"This is not part of what the Amish believe," said Miller. "It's a good example of how too much power corrupts. Church followers should not be dominated by one person or one bishop, otherwise you have this."
Referring to Sam Mullet's supposed domineering ways over his enclave of about 120 followers in 18 families, the Mennonite Mr. Miller said, "At what point are we looking at a dictator?"
Andy Hostetler, an Amish man from Holmes County also watched the proceedings from inside the courtroom. He too lamented the poor image of the Amish being portrayed worldwide because of the beard and hair-cutting attacks.
"This is an extreme group, a radical group," he said of Mullet's followers. "It's not what the Amish believe in. That's not the way the government, or the state, or the schools work, with one person dictating everything."
Sheriff Zimmerly says he visited the 74-yera-old bishop Hershberger and his family on Tuesday. "I talked to the victims," he said, "and they're doing well, recovering from the shock of everything. They're getting along pretty good now."
Although five men are under arrest, Zimmerly said his investigation is not over and more arrests are not impossible.
"It's to the point where everyone realizes something has to be done before things escalate and we have a more serious crime."