Ohio sheriff testifies at Amish beard-cutting trial

Samuel Mullet, Sr., accused ringleader of the Amish beard-cutting attacks
WKBN/U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Ohio

(CBS/AP) JOLIET, Ill. - An Ohio sheriff testified Wednesday that residents of a large Amish settlement were upset and screaming when an Amish bishop had his beard cut short during a nighttime home invasion.

Pictures: Amish men charged in beard-cutting attacks

"There was a lot of screaming and yelling go on," Holmes County Sheriff Timothy Zimmerly testified. He appeared in the U.S. District Court trial of 16 defendants in the October attacks in northeast Ohio.

Zimmerly said he went to the home of an Amish bishop whose beard and hair was cut short by fellow Amish. He said the bishop's hair was unevenly chopped to the scalp, leaving it bloody.

"There was a lot of hair laying on the floor," he testified. 

Defense attorneys cross-examined Zimmerly, focusing on religious issues including the faith-based reluctance of involving law-enforcement agencies in crimes concerning the Amish. The defense tried to portray the attacks as internal church disciplinary matters, not a religion-based hate crime as prosecutors contend.

The defense also questioned Zimmerly about the role of the accused ringleader, Sam Mullet Sr., in escorting his son and nephew when they surrendered, apparently to show he cooperated with authorities.

Holmes County sheriff's Det.Joe Mullet, who interviewed defendant Levi Miller, said Miller admitted involvement and said he was sorry for participating and for getting caught.

Mullet testified that Miller told him he "would have cut a lot more beards" if he knew he was going to get caught. The detective said earlier that he didn't believe he was related to Sam Mullet or other defendants with the same last name.

The defendants are accused of targeting the hair and beards of Amish bishops because of its spiritual significance in the faith, prosecutors said. Most Amish men do not shave their beards after marriage, believing it signifies their devotion to God.

Prosecutors said there were five different attacks last fall, orchestrated by Sam Mullet, who two decades ago established an Amish settlement outside the tiny town of Bergholz near Steubenville. All the defendants, who live in the settlement, could face lengthy prison terms if convicted on charges that include conspiracy and obstructing justice.

Mullet denied ordering the hair-cutting but said he didn't stop anyone from carrying it out.

Defense attorneys did not deny that the hair cuttings took place and said in opening statements that members of the breakaway group took action out of compassion and concern that some Amish were straying from their beliefs. The attorneys also contended that the Amish are bound by different rules guided by their religion and that the government shouldn't get involved in what amounted to a family or church dispute.

Complete coverage of the Amish beard-cutting attacks on Crimesider