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Leader of Amish sect's behavior to be issue at trial

Prosecutors in connection with an alleged beard-cutting incident among Amish people will be allowed to argue to the jury that one of the defendants had undue influence over his community after the judge in the case rejected the defendant's motion on May 29. Defense attorneys had argued that the prosecutors' only purpose in painting the defendant as the unquestioned leader of the community was to prejudice the jury against him.

We previously discussed the federal charges against the man and 15 other members of the sect in our April 6 blog post. Authorities claim that nine members went to the northeast Ohio home of a couple that was part of a more mainstream Amish community and forcibly cut their hair. The defendants are also accused of cutting the man's beard and stealing the woman's bonnet. The remaining seven defendants are accused of destroying evidence or making false statements to investigators.

While readers in Pittsburgh may not understand what would make these actions a hate crime, Amish people consider beard- and hair-cutting to be a serious attack. Prosecutors convinced the judge that the 2009 federal hate crimes law applies to conflicts within the same religion on top of attacks on people of different religions.

Among the evidence the prosecutors plan to present to jurors to establish the leaders supposed control over the community is evidence that the man would order beatings and have sex with married women. Though defense attorneys argued that these alleged activities were not relevant to the hair-cutting charges, the judge said they would provide "context."

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Judge rules against Amish sect leader," Torsten Ove, May 29, 2012

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