CLEVELAND — Some Amish people among 16 charged in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish are asking not to be required to swear an oath if they testify in federal court and want to delay their upcoming trial, according to court documents filed Monday.
They request that Amish witnesses be allowed simply to affirm the truthfulness of their testimony because many Amish don't believe in swearing oaths. The defendants include members of an eastern Ohio breakaway Amish group.
Last fall, several members of the group living in Bergholz, a village of 700 residents about 80 miles southeast of Cleveland, forcibly cut the beards and hair of men and the hair of women, acts considered deeply offensive in Amish culture, and then took photos to shame them, authorities said.
Prosecutors describe the attacks as hate crimes prompted by a feud over church discipline.
The defendants say the attacks were internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias. They denied the charges and rejected plea bargain offers and could face lengthy prison terms if convicted.
In a move opposed by prosecutors, attorneys for Sam Mullet Sr., accused of being the group's ringleader, and other defendants are seeking to delay the Aug. 27 trial to give them more time to prepare and resolve legal issues raised in pretrial documents. The defense says the remote location, in far eastern Ohio, and restrictions of Amish society have slowed preparations for the case.
Some defendants asked the court to prohibit references to a handful of topics, including Mullet's finances, media coverage of the case and terminology portraying his community as a cult or breakaway or splinter group.
Prosecutors also outlined their allegations in court documents Monday and made several requests, including that the defense be banned from mentioning defendants' pretrial detention.
Prosecutors said multiple defendants have confessed to law enforcement officers who will testify. The government also plans to use three recorded jail conversations spoken mostly in Pennsylvania Dutch and transcribed by a Holmes County detective.
Mullet previously said 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 him and his community.
"They changed the rulings of our church here, and they're trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we're not going to do that," Mullet said late last year.
Mullet's attorneys didn't immediately respond to messages Monday. The prosecutor's office had no comment about the legal filings.