CLEVELAND -- Sixteen people charged in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio rejected government plea bargain offers of leniency Monday and will go to trial.

The defendants include members of an eastern Ohio breakaway Amish group. Prosecutors said the attacks were hate crimes.

The defendants said they were internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias.

The defendants, led by Sam Mullet Sr., stood up one by one before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster and said they understand the risks of trial, including lengthy prison terms if convicted.

The judge told one woman she was responding robotically to his questions, and another woman wiped away tears with a tissue as questions were asked of each defendant. Most of the other defendants and their family members in court watched without emotion.

The plea bargains detailed in court would have given many of the defendants sentences of two to three years in prison instead of the possibility of 20 years or more. Several might have been eligible for parole.

Prosecutors say a feud over church discipline led to attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, an act considered deeply offensive in Amish culture. The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.

Several members of the group living in Bergholz in eastern Ohio carried out the attacks last 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.

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.

The judge initially said he intended to split the trial in two – with the first trial for Mullet and six others who have been jailed since their arrest. The judge said he was concerned that a trial with 16 defendants might confuse jurors, in part because nine defendants have the last name Miller.

The judge, flipping pages to keep track of the defendants, decided against splitting the trial when the U.S. Marshals Service said it could secure the crowded courtroom. In addition, attorneys expressed concerns about requiring victims to testify twice and adding travel expense for family members to attend two trials.

A prosecutor also raised the issue of whether two juries hearing substantially the same evidence would return with different verdicts.

The defendants in custody appeared in court in jail jump suits with their wrists and ankles cuffed. The men out on bond wore dark slacks with suspenders and blue or white shirts, and the women had blue tops, blue pleated skirts and white kerchiefs tied behind the neck.

Mullet's son, Lester Mullet, 27, who cannot afford to pay an attorney, tried to fire his court-appointed lawyer in court, but the judge said he couldn't do that.

Lester Mullet said he didn't understand why he was locked up pending trial as a possible risk to others when a plea deal with an offer to cooperate might set him free promptly. "It don't make sense," he said.

The other defendants include three other children of Sam Mullet Sr., his son-in-law, three nephews, the spouses of a niece and nephews, and a member of the Mullet community in Bergholz.

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.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Sam Mullet

    FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2011 file photo, Sam Mullet leans on the mailbox at his home in Bergholz, Ohio. The FBI and local sheriff's deputies arrested seven men, including Mullet, reputed leader of a breakaway Amish sect, on federal hate crime charges early Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011. A grand jury indicted 11 individuals for their alleged involvement in a spree of beard cuttings on Dec. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

  • Mugshots

    FILE - This file combo made from photos provided by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department shows, from left, Levi Miller, Johnny Mullet, and Lester Mullet, of Bergholz, Ohio. These three men and two others suspected of forcefully cutting the beards of fellow Amish were arraigned Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, and released on $50,000 bonds posted by the leader of their breakaway group. (AP Photo/Jefferson County Sheriffs Department, File)

  • Lester Mullet

    This photo provided by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department shows Lester Mullet of Bergholz, Ohio. Mullet and three other men believed to be members of a breakaway Amish group were arrested Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 for allegedly going into the home an elderly Amish man and cutting his hair and beard. (AP Photo/Jefferson County Sheriffs Department)

  • Levi Miller

    This photo provided by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department shows Levi Miller of Bergholz, Ohio. Miller and three other men believed to be members of a breakaway Amish group were arrested Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 for allegedly going into the home an elderly Amish man and cutting his hair and beard. (AP Photo/Jefferson County Sheriffs Department)

  • Johnny Mullet

    This photo provided by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department shows Johnny Mullet of Bergholz, Ohio. Mullet and two other men believed to be members of a breakaway Amish group were arrested Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 for allegedly going into the home an elderly Amish man and cutting his hair and beard. (AP Photo/Jefferson County Sheriffs Department)

  • Fred Abdella

    Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdella sits at his desk in Steubenville, Ohio on Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. Abdella disputes the claim by Sam Mullet, the leader of a breakaway Amish group, who said that an attack on fellow Amish in which a man's beard was cut off was a religious issue stemming from long-standing resentment of his group's treatment. Sam Mullet, 66, said the goal was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

  • Members of the Amish community leave the U.S. Federal Courthouse Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Cleveland. Sixteen men and women have pleaded not guilty in beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish in Ohio. The latest indictment added new allegations that the suspects tried to hide or destroy evidence, including a disposable camera, shears and a bag of hair from the victims. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  • Members of the Amish community leave the U.S. Federal Courthouse Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Cleveland. Sixteen men and women have pleaded not guilty in beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish in Ohio. The latest indictment added new allegations that the suspects tried to hide or destroy evidence, including a disposable camera, shears and a bag of hair from the victims. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  • Arlene Miller checks for her mail in front of her home on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 in Carrolton, Ohio. Miller, 46, who is Amish, tells the Associated Press, her husband had his beard cut by members of a breakaway Amish group. Several men came to their door and attacked her husband, who fled when he called his sons for help. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

  • Jeffery Stone

    Jeffery Stone, mayor of Bergholz, Ohio. sits on the front stoop of his home in Bergholz on Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. Stone said that he and the town have not have any problems with the group of breakaway Amish living at the edge of his community. Sam Mullet, the leader of a breakaway Amish group said an attack on fellow Amish in which a man's beard was cut off was a religious issue stemming from long-standing resentment of his group's treatment. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

  • Sam Mullet

    Amish children play baseball during recess outside their school in Bergholz, Ohio home on Monday. Oct. 10, 2011. Sam Mullet , the leader of the breakaway Amish group, said an attack on fellow Amish in which a man's beard was cut off was a religious issue stemming from long-standing resentment of his group's treatment. Mullet, 66, said the goal was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community. ( AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

  • Sam Mullet

    In this photo provided to an Ohio district court late in August, Samuel Mullet allegedly cuts off the beard of his follower, Raymond Hershberger in October last year.