CLEVELAND — Federal prosecutors will be allowed to question witnesses about Amish leader Sam Mullet’s sexual activities when the hate-crime trial of Mullet and 15 followers begins next week, a federal judge ruled on Monday.
U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster also agreed to allow testimony about Mullet’s use of corporal punishment to control followers, but forbid prosecutors from describing his group with words such as cult, sect, clan, band, schism, faction, offshoot, breakaway, renegade, rogue, or splinter group. Witnesses, however, can use any terms they choose.
Polster’s rulings set the stage for a trial that is scheduled to begin Aug. 27 and is expected to attract national attention because of the unusual nature of the charges and the glimpse the case offers into a reclusive Amish community.
A pair of scissors transported across state lines has emerged as a controversial element in Ohio's first case under a landmark 2009 federal law that expanded government powers to prosecute hate crimes.
The case involves a dozen members of an Amish sect in central Ohio who are charged with using the shears -- made in New York and brought to Ohio -- to forcibly cut the hair and beards of fellow Amish to avenge a religious dispute.
The travel history of the shears may seem like a peculiar point in the peculiar case that has focused national attention on Ohio's Amish community. But the hate crimes law -- like many other federal statutes, including health-care reform legislation -- is rooted in Congress' far-reaching power to regulate interstate commerce.
Enacted in 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was named for a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten and tortured to death by two men in 1998, and a black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to death in Texas that same year.