Cleaveland: Sixteen people charged in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish rejected government plea bargain offers of leniency on Monday and will go to trial.
The defendants include members of an Ohio breakaway group of Amish, a deeply traditional religious group that avoids most modern conveniences.
Prosecutors say a feud over church discipline led to attacks last year in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, an act considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.
The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
Prosecutors said the attacks were hate crimes. The defendants said they were internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias.
The defendants, led by Sam Mullet Sr, told the judge they understand the risks of trial, including lengthy prison terms if convicted.
The plea bargains would have given many defendants sentences of two to three years in prison instead of the possibility of 20 years or more. Several might have been eligible for parole.
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn`t order the hair-cutting but didn`t stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.