By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND, March 29 (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have expanded a hate crimes case against followers of Ohio Amish sect leader Samuel Mullet Sr., charging four more women with participating in a beard and hair-cutting attack last year.
In all, 16 members of the group including Mullet now face charges in attacks that officials said were intended to humiliate the victims, since the Amish believe married men and women must abstain from cutting their hair.
Lovina Miller, Kathryn Miller, Emma Miller and Elizabeth Miller were charged Wednesday in federal court in Cleveland for taking part in an attack on a couple from the Holmes County, Ohio Amish community on Sept. 6, 2011.
All four are married to nephews of Mullet, a Bergholtz, Ohio bishop authorities have accused of being the ringleader for the assaults. The women face charges of assault and kidnapping in the attack and as part of the larger conspiracy that included tampering with evidence.
A 10-count indictment against the 16 defendants contends that some members burned hair and a bonnet taken in an assault, concealed scissors and clippers used in some attacks and hid a camera used to take pictures of some assault victims on Mullet property before turning it over to authorities.
Prosecutors believe the attacks in September, October and November 2011 covered by the indictment were motivated by a dispute between Mullet and other Amish bishops after members of his group left and joined neighboring communities.
All 16 defendants have been charged under federal hate crimes laws related to multiple hair and beard cutting attacks.
Two defendants, Mullet and Lester Miller, have filed motions arguing that the statute, which carries a possible life sentence, does not apply to intra-religious disputes and is a violation of the separation of powers.
Seven of the original defendants including Mullet and two of his sons have been in custody since their arrest in October. (Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Paul Thomasch)