An appeals court in Cincinnati has overturned the hate-crime convictions of 16 Amish who cut the beards and hair of their fellow Amish.
"When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants' theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims' religious beliefs, sparked the attacks," the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.
The Associated Press adds that three defendants who were convicted of non-hate crime-related charges did not challenge those convictions.
The Amish beard-cutters, headed by a man named Sam Mullet, who ran a community of about 120 people near Bergholz, Ohio, were convicted in September 2012 of five attacks in Amish communities in Ohio in 2011. As Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported for NPR's All Things Considered at the time: "The victims have all been Amish leaders who have spoken out against Mullet, or those who have fled Mullet's group."
Mullet, as we reported last year, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is now 69 years old. Members of his family received sentences ranging from one to seven years.
As part of our reporting on the story, sociologist Charles Hurst spoke about the significance of facial hair among the Amish and why the beard-cutting resonated so deeply among the community.
"Having a beard is a sign of adulthood, it's a sign of maturity and it's a sign of marital status. So it's a sign of a man being a man. So, to cut the beard is a kind of humiliation," he told reporter David Barnett.