If found guilty of a hate crime, the 16 defendants could face many years in prison (Smoking Gun)
If found guilty of hate crime and other charges, the 16 defendants could face 20 years in prison (Smoking Gun) Reuters

The son of one of the alleged Amish hair-cutting victims in Ohio has told a court that the attack left his bishop father so ashamed that he stopped preaching and refused to attend a family wedding.

Andy Hershberger was the first witness in the trial of 16 Amish men and woman accused of hate crimes after cutting the hair and beards of nine fellow members of the Amish community over alleged religious disputes.

Beards and hair have huge spiritual and religious significance in the Amish faith and the trimming or cutting of them is considered the ultimate humiliation. Some believers even regard it as a disfigurement.

Hershberger told the court that five men arrived at his home in October and asked to speak to his 77-year-old father, Raymond.

Once inside, a defendant identified as Johnny Mullet - son of accused ringleader Sam Mullet Sr - said: "We're from Bergholz [a neighbouring town]. We're here to do what you did to our people."

Hershberger said the men held his father down and cut off clumps of his beard. He told the court that the victim cried: "Don't shear me, don't shear me."

"I saw the hair fly. He was shaking all over," Herschberger said of his father. "He was crying and crying."

The bishop did not preach again until his hair grew back. "He was so ashamed with the way he looked. He was heartbroken," his son told the court.

Hershberger's father had previously been excommunicated by Mullet Sr.

Prosecutors said he was one of several bishops who had religious disagreements with the breakaway group's ringleader and was attacked as retribution for disagreeing with Mullet's decision to excommunicate eight families when they left his group in 2005.

Also at the trial, Mullet Sr's sister, Barbara Miller, described how six of her children and their spouses showed up at her door in September 2011.

Shears and clippers

Miller and her husband Marty's relationship had been strained with her children ever since they left the Mullet settlement four years earlier.

She described how she was originally pleased to see her son Lester when he came to her door but when she opened it, the rest of her sons poured into the house armed with shears and clippers.

They then cut off their father's beard and her waist-length hair.

She said: "I started praying forgive them God". One son screamed back at her: "God is not with you."

Prosecutors said there were five attacks overall that autumn, all orchestrated by Mullet Sr. He has denied ordering the hair-cutting but said he did not stop anyone from doing it.

In addition to hate crimes, the 10 men and six woman face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and obstruction of police. They could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Lawyers for the defendants have not denied the attacks took place but said the Amish live by rules guided by their religion and that the government should not get involved in what amounts to a church dispute.

The trial continues.

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