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Both sides rest in Amish hate-crime trial

CLEVELAND, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- The Cleveland hate-crimes trial of breakaway Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Jr. and 15 followers is headed to closing arguments after both sides rested Tuesday.

After prosecutors wrapped up the presentation of their case in U.S. District Court following eight days of testimony, defense attorneys announced they would not call any witnesses and rested as well, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported.

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Judge Dan Aaron Polster rejected the defense request that he dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.

"I think a reasonable jury could conclude that there was a general religious motivation behind all of these attacks, and that the cases should go to the jury," Polster said.

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The judge referred to a statement to the media soon after the beard-cuttings in which Mullet said, "We know what we did and why we did it," the newspaper reported.

"The jury could conclude the 'we' included himself, that he approved it and ratified it," Polster said.

Closing arguments will begin Wednesday morning.

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Mullet, 66, leader of an Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio, is accused of ordering a series of beard- and hair-cutting attacks last fall on religious enemies and estranged family members. He and his co-defendants were arrested in November by the FBI and local authorities and charged with hate crimes.

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Earlier in the day, Amish religion expert Donald Kraybill continued his testimony from the previous day, saying the practices of Mullet's group of 18 families resembled a cult, what he called a "lone ranger group."

"There was ample evidence that since 2009 they no longer held church services, and showed a complete disregard for traditional Amish doctrine," Kraybill said.

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He said Monday the alleged attacks were clear violations of Amish principles.

"The Amish believe that we should do no harm to anyone in any way," he said. "The rejection of revenge, the rejection of force, and forgiveness, is central" to Amish teaching.

Kraybill mentioned a 2006 conclave of several hundred Amish bishops in Ulysses, Pa., at which six of Mullet's excommunications were overturned.

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"This was like an earthquake in the Amish world," Kraybill said.

Federal prosecutors said Mullet was furious at the rebuke, and point to the bishop's decision as the motive for several of the humiliating hair shearing.

To obtain hate-crime convictions, prosecutors must prove the cutting of beard and head hair is an example of bodily harm, and the attacks were religiously motivated, the newspaper said.

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