CINCINNATI (AP) — The sentences and convictions of 16 Amish men and women found guilty of hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of fellow Amish in eastern Ohio should be upheld, federal prosecutors argued in a court filing.
In their response to the defendants' appeals, prosecutors on Friday wrote that the victims were forcibly awakened in the middle of the night, restrained and disfigured in a way intended to destroy an important symbol of their beliefs.
"The victims were devastated and physically injured, and the assaults injected terror and anxiety into a community that awaited the next nighttime assault," prosecutors wrote in their filing with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Authorities charged the defendants under a hate crime statute, saying the 2011 attacks were meant to shame fellow Amish that the attackers believed were straying from the faith.
The group's leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while the other members of the group got sentences ranging from one to seven years.
Among other arguments, defendants in their appeals have challenged the use of the federal hate crime statute under which they were prosecuted. They have said they were wrongfully prosecuted because their actions amounted to family disputes that resulted in no serious physical injury. They also have said the judge should have instructed jurors that religion had to be the primary motivating factor and not just one of the factors to justify use of that statute.
The prosecution argued in its response the statute does not require that religion be the primary motivating factor.
Prosecutors also say the statute, which requires interstate commerce to be a factor in a crime, was applied correctly in the case. At trial, prosecutors argued that the scissors, shears and clippers used in the attacks had traveled across state lines.
Prosecutors asked the appeals court to hear oral arguments.
Mullet's attorney, Edward Bryan, said Saturday that he had not yet seen the prosecution response.
"We hope and pray that we prevail, and the community is holding strong," Bryan said.
Associated Press writer Amanda Lee Myers in Cincinnati contributed to this report.