CLEVELAND: An Amish bishop accused of orchestrating hair-cutting attacks in Ohio coerced women at his settlement into having sex with him so he could turn them into better wives, one of the women testified Thursday.
The woman said that what started out as hugs turned into kisses and then sex. She said she resisted at first.
“He would say things like, ‘I can’t understand why you won’t obey me. The other ladies can,’?” the woman testified. “I always gave up. I was afraid not to.”
Prosecutors say the alleged sexual “counseling” of married women shows the control Samuel Mullet Sr. had over followers at the Amish settlement he founded two decades ago. The 16 people accused of carrying out the hair-cutting attacks last fall all lived in Mullet’s settlement in eastern Ohio near the West Virginia panhandle.
The government contends the hair-cutting was motivated by a religious dispute between Mullet and other Amish bishops who had sought to limit his authority. Those accused of planning and taking part targeted the hair and beards of the Amish because of its spiritual significance in the faith, prosecutors said.
Mullet has denied any involvement.
His attorneys had tried before the trial began to bar any testimony about the alleged sexual “counseling.” They argued there was no proof of such sexual conduct and that mentioning it would be highly prejudicial.
U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster told jurors after the woman took the stand that Mullet was not charged with any sex crimes and that they could consider the testimony only as it relates to charges in the indictment.
The woman said her husband had a mental breakdown in the summer of 2008 and was in the hospital when Mullet suggested that her husband’s trouble stemmed from dissatisfaction with his marriage. Mullet told her he wanted to help the couple with marriage counseling, and she agreed to his request to move in with him, she said.
At first he wanted hugs from her, she said, adding that she learned he had asked the same of other women.
“Next we had to kiss him or maybe we had to sit on his lap,” she said. “I’m not sure what was first.”
Even asking for a hug was a startling request, she said, in a community that values modesty and is deeply religious. Amish women in the most conservative churches traditionally wear long dresses and bonnets over their hair and frown upon drawing attention to themselves.
She went along with Mullet’s wishes because she thought it would help her husband, she said.
One evening after moving into Mullet’s home, another woman came to her and said that he wanted to see her in his bedroom, she said. She said she refused, but Mullet was insistent.
The woman said she moved out of the house after about two months when her husband returned to the settlement, but she continued to see Mullet at his home.
“I was afraid not to go,” she said.
The woman said she finally told Mullet a month later that it had to stop. He called her a whore, she said.
The woman and her husband soon left the Amish settlement where they had raised their children and moved to Pennsylvania.
“We just took our children and a few suitcases with our clothes,” she said.