Amish hair-cutting trial goes to Ohio jury

A group of Amish leave the US courthouse in Cleveland 5 September 2012 A group of Amish leaves the US courthouse in Cleveland during the trial

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An Ohio jury has begun deliberating in the case of 16 Amish people accused of hate crime after they cut the hair and beards of rivals.

Prosecutors say religious differences motivated the attacks by members of a breakaway group led by Samuel Mullet; uncut hair is an Amish symbol of faith.

Defence lawyers acknowledge the hair cutting took place, but say the hate-crime charges are excessive.

The six women and 10 men have pleaded not guilty.

The accused face up to life in prison if convicted.

Jurors ended their first day of deliberations without a verdict on Thursday at the US district court in Cleveland.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that the attacks were caused by disputes between Mr Mullet and the leaders of another Amish group, and that cutting their hair had "religiously degraded them".

'Terror'

They argue that Mr Mullet orchestrated the attacks, even if he was not present.

After every incident, the suspects returned to Mr Mullet's home, once giving him a paper bag stuffed with hair, prosecutor Kristy Parker said.

Sam Mullet Samuel Mullet has denied ordering the attacks

"None of the terror that was unleashed on the victims last fall would have happened without Sam Mullet," she said.

All of the victims were people who had a dispute with Mr Mullet over his religious practices and his authoritarian rule over the settlement he founded, she said.

Defence lawyers argued that the attacks were the result of family or financial disputes.

"Use common sense," defence lawyer Neal Atway told jurors. "What happened was offensive, but what crime was committed?"

Mr Mullet told the Associated Press in October that he did not order the attacks, but did not stop his sons and others in his group from carrying them out.

The Amish leader said in the interview that he had wanted to send a message that the others should be ashamed for the way they had treated his group.

Many Amish believe that the Bible instructs women to wear their hair long and for men to stop shaving after marriage.

Ohio has an Amish population of about 61,000 - second only to Pennsylvania.

Within the Amish community, punishments are often decided internally and crimes are rarely reported to the police. Some of the victims of the attacks had refused to press charges.

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