Sixteen members of a US Amish community accused of carrying out a string of beard and hair-cuttings against religious rivals have pleaded not guilty and are set to go on trial in August.
The defendants — 10 men and six women — refused to speak to media after their afternoon hearing on Thursday over what prosecutors have called “religiously-motivated assaults” between September and November of last year.
Their lawyers have urged their release, saying the seven who remain incarcerated — including alleged ringleader Samuel Mullet – need to get back to their families to help with the spring planting season.
“I talked with my client and she’s got other members of her family and her children planting the crops in the field,” attorney Joseph Dubyak told reporters.
Edward Bryan, Mullet’s lawyer, told Fox 8 News that he would seek to have his client released on bail.
“His family needs him home right now. This is a very busy time for Amish people. Obviously, there are a lot of fields to be plowed,” he said.
The Amish, a close-knit Mennonite Christian community that predominantly dwells in the central US states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, shun modern conveniences such as electricity and motor vehicles.
Mullet, the bishop of the Amish community in the village of Bergholz, Ohio, has also been charged with making false statements to federal agents during the investigation.
Many of the other accused are members of Mullet’s family.
They are accused of breaking into homes and forcibly cutting off men’s beards and women’s hair — both symbols of piety for the Amish.
The defendants allegedly used scissors, battery-powered clippers and eight-inch (20-centimeter) horse mane shears “sharp enough to cut through leather,” according to the indictment.
Some of them are also accused of concealing and destroying evidence, including a disposable camera, shears and a bag of hair from the victims.
The trial has been set for August 27.