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Leader in Amish hair-cutting case seeks Supreme Court review

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2011, file photo, Samuel Mullet Sr. stands in front of his home in Bergholz, Ohio. The leader of a breakaway group accused in hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in 2011, Samuel Mullet Sr., currently in federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, and two of the 15 followers sentenced in the case have asked for a U.S. Supreme Court review, in a petition filed in September 2016. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)
October 04, 2016 - 1:10 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The leader of a breakaway group that was accused in hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

The petition was filed last month on behalf of Samuel Mullet Sr. and two of the 15 followers sentenced in the case. They're challenging the constitutionality of the federal hate crimes law, and how a kidnapping allegation was used to stiffen Mullet's sentence.

The court hears relatively few of the cases brought to it, making the appeal a long shot, but attorneys for the defendants argue it's a one-of-a-kind case with important issues for the justices to consider.

Prosecutors said some of the seven victims in the 2011 attacks were awakened in the middle of the night and restrained as others cut their hair and beards, which have spiritual significance in the Amish faith. Prosecutors alleged the motive was religious, while the defence attributed it to family disputes.

An appeals court dismissed hate-crimes convictions for all 16 defendants because of a judge's improper jury instructions on whether they were involved in the hair-cutting because of the victims' religion.

The defendants were resentenced on the remaining charges, principally conspiracy to obstruct justice, though half already had completed their sentences by then. A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then rejected a bid to overturn the new sentences and remaining charges, and a request for the full 6th Circuit to consider the case was denied.

In the new petition, attorneys argue that the purported obstruction happened during a federal investigation under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and that they deserve a chance to challenge that because the law is unconstitutional.

They also raise concerns about how sentencing guidelines were applied for Mullet, who got nearly 11 years despite arguments that he wasn't present for the hair-cuttings.

Mullet, 71, has served nearly half his sentence and is now at a low-security prison near Elkton, about an hour's drive northeast of his community in Bergholz, near the West Virginia panhandle.

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Associated Press reporter Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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