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Amish sect members plead not guilty in beard-cutting case

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Twelve members of an Amish splinter group in Ohio pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges stemming from a spate of beard- and hair-cutting assaults last fall on other Amish.

The 10 men and two women were indicted on seven counts, including federal hate crime charges, for their part in the unusual attacks, which began in September 2011 and generated fear in the tight-knit Amish community.

The assaults were considered especially egregious because the beard is a symbol of a man's identity among the Amish and women in the community do not cut their hair for biblical reasons.

The courtroom inside District Court in Cleveland where the 12, all from Bergholz, were arraigned on Wednesday was packed with Amish onlookers.

Seven of the original defendants, including the suspected ringleader, Samuel Mullet Sr., and two of his sons, have been in custody since their arrest in October.

District Judge Dan Aaron Polster denied a request on Wednesday that Samuel Sr., 66, and his 37-year-old son Johnny be released on bond, citing the lack of modern amenities, including electricity, at their house, which makes electronic monitoring impossible.

But the judge released five of the defendants on $20,000 unsecured bonds. Trial has been scheduled to start March 19.

(Reporting by James Kelleher; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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