Garth Kant is WND Washington news editor. Previously, he spent five years writing, copy-editing and producing at "CNN Headline News," three years writing, copy-editing and training writers at MSNBC, and also served several local TV newsrooms as producer, executive producer and assistant news director. He is the author of the McGraw-Hill textbook, "How to Write Television News."More ↓Less ↑
When is cutting someone’s beard a hate crime worthy of a life sentence? When the federal government says so.
Instead of the life sentence recommended by the government, a federal judge sentenced community leader Bishop Samuel Mullet to 15 years in prison. The judge sentenced 15 of Mullet’s followers to two-to-seven years in prison, including six women.
Steven Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said, “It sends a message that the judge agreed that these were extremely serious crimes that require similarly serious sentences.”
Edward Bryan, the attorney who represented Mr. Mullet, said, “I was relieved that the judge didn’t follow the government’s recommendation for a life sentence, though I still believe the judge’s sentence was way too much.”
Bryan said a personal dispute should not have been turned into a federal crime, much less a hate crime.
“There was overkill involved in this case,” he argued. “The government had no business getting involved in this case the way they did. To justify it, they did everything they could to make a boogey man out of my defendant. He’s actually the opposite. He’s a decent, loving man.”
Even a spokesman for one of the nation’s leading proponents of hate-crime prosecutions appeared somewhat taken aback by the case.
“This was surprising to many people, that charges were as heavy as they were. I’m not disputing them, but it was a very vigorous prosecution by the government to say the least,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The case reflects a willingness of the government to go after hate criminals in a very heavy way.”
The FBI defines a hate crime as a crime demonstrating bias. Its website states: “A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a ‘criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.’ Hate itself is not a crime – and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”
A fierce advocate for the prosecution of hate crimes, the Anti-Defamation League states.
“These crimes occur because of the perpetrator’s bias or animus against the victim on the basis of actual or perceived status – the victim’s race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, or disability.”
The defendants in the Amish hate-crimes convictions share the same religion as their victims.
The Amish are traditionalist Christians who favor simple living, plain dress, rural living and self-sufficiency. They avoid modern technology, which could present a challenge for them in prison.