CLEVELAND (AP) — Prosecutors will begin laying out their case Tuesday against 16 people charged with federal hate crimes in hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio.
A jury was seated Monday for what's expected to be at least a two-week trial for members of a breakaway Amish group from eastern Ohio, including its 66-year-old leader and four of his children.
Prosecutors have said the suspects forcibly cut the beards and hair of Amish men and the hair of women or tried to cover up the five attacks between September and November. Authorities say the attacks were motivated by religious differences.
Sam Mullet Sr. and 15 other Amish men and women are charged with hate crimes, which were filed under a law that makes an attack a federal crime if it was committed because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
Other charges include conspiracy, evidence tampering and obstruction of justice. Some of the defendants face prison terms of 20 years or more if convicted.
The defendants say the government shouldn't intrude on what they call internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias. They've denied the charges and rejected plea bargain offers carrying sentences of two to three years in prison instead of possible sentences of 20 years or more.
Defense attorneys on Monday asked potential jurors whether they view the Amish differently because of how they dress or because of their unique religion. They also were asked how much contact they've had with the Amish. One man said he had grown up near an Amish settlement.
"They look different, but they are still American citizens and deserve a fair trial," said attorney Dean Carro, who represents defendant Lester Miller.
The men on trial wore suspenders in court and had long beards while the women wore long dresses and white bonnets.
All but one of the defendants is related to Samuel Mullet Sr.
The hair-cuttings, Mullet said last fall, were a response to continuous criticism he'd received from other Amish religious leaders about him being too strict, including excommunicating and shunning people in his own group. Mullet has said he didn't order the hair-cuttings but didn't stop anyone from carrying it out. He also has defended what he thinks is his right to punish people who break church laws.
Mullet's attorney, Ed Bryan, told potential jurors he was concerned about pre-trial publicity and asked jurors whether they'd be able to judge the defendants fairly.