Amish leader Samuel Mullet and 15 others guilty of hate crime

The Amish defendants file picture October 2011 Defence lawyers said the attacks did take place but were internal disputes

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Members of an Amish breakaway group have been found guilty of hate crimes for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of community members.

The leader of the group, Samuel Mullet, has also been convicted of planning the five attacks last year in eastern Ohio.

The 16 face 10 years or more in jail over the incidents, prompted by a dispute over religious differences.

Prosecutors said the victims' hair was cut because it has spiritual significance in the Amish faith.

Defence lawyers admitted the attacks did take place, but argued they did not amount to hate crimes.

The hair-cutting incidents were internal family disputes, they argued.

'Chicken coop punishments'

Mullet was not accused of participating in the hair-cutting attacks, but prosecutors said he encouraged the defendants - six women and 10 men, including four of his sons - to carry them out.

He taunted his victims in jailhouse phone calls and received a paper bag full of the hair of one victim, prosecutors alleged.

Amish breakaway group leader Samuel Mullet Sr file picture Samuel Mullet Sr said the attacks were a response to criticisms from other Amish groups

One Amish bishop testified that his beard, which usually hung to his chest, was cut almost to his chin after four or five men dragged him out of his farmhouse in a night-time attack.

Other witnesses said Mullet maintained absolute control over the settlement he founded two decades ago.

Some said men were made to sleep in chicken coops as punishment. Mullet also practised sexual "counselling" for married women in his community, according to court documents.

Mullet told the Associated Press in October 2011 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 to other Amish religious groups that they should be ashamed for the way they had treated his group.

Mullet had been criticised by other Amish leaders for being too strict, and for ostracising members of his own 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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