CLEVELAND (AP) — All 12 defendants charged in beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio will close ranks and challenge the constitutionality of the federal hate crimes law, a member of the defense team said Monday.
J. Dean Carro, a University of Akron law professor who filed a challenge on behalf of the alleged ringleader and one of his sons, said all defendants would challenge the law and try to have the indictment dismissed.
The judge extended Monday's deadline for prosecutors to respond until April 16. Prosecutors didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
The challenges, including one filed electronically Sunday night, said the alleged attacks aren't hate crimes but internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias.
The motion to dismiss the indictment said the hate crimes law is vague and overly broad and includes actions, like the ones in the Amish case, "that were not intended to be covered as 'hate crimes'."
"The actions alleged in this care are not alleged to be the result of anti-Amish bias," the motion said.
Samuel Mullet Sr. and 11 followers are charged in five beard- and hair-cutting attacks on other Amish last year. They have pleaded not guilty.
A feud over church discipline allegedly led to attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, which is considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.
The seven-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors say were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.
Several members of the group carried out the attacks in September, October and November by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos to shame them, authorities said.
Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn't order the hair-cutting but didn't stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.
In addition to Mullet, the indictment also charges four of his children, a son-in-law, three nephews, the spouses of a niece and nephew and a member of the Mullet community in Bergholz in eastern Ohio near Steubenville.
Authorities said previously that some Amish refused to press charges, following their practice of avoiding involvement of the courts.
Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 — second only to Pennsylvania — with most living in rural counties south and east of Cleveland.