CLEVELAND -- Sixteen people accused in the beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish say they'll go to trial next month.
The defendants told Cleveland Federal Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster they understand the risks of a trial and are willing to take them. All 16 are facing federal hate crime charges.
The judge discussed the charges against each defendant Monday, and explained the plea agreement the government offered.
Sam Mullet, 66, the Bishop of the so-called Bergholz Clan, the accused ringleader of the group.
Mullet was the first to be addressed, saying in court, "My biggest problem is I don't want to plead guilty to something I feel I'm innocent of."
He could face up to a life sentence in prison if convicted under certain sentencing guidelines. Edward Bryan, the assistant federal public defender that Mullet has retained, says his client has such an unshakable faith in God that he believes that he would be lying to take a plea deal when he doesn't feel he's guilty as accused.
None of the other 15 defendants explained their decisions, but all bypassed two to three year jail sentences, some even probation possibilities, offered by the government. Each defendant's case is different, but many face advised sentences upward of 20 years if convicted.
Bryan told Channel 3 News that the law allows for much interpretation here, in terms of the charges as well as sentencing.
He says his client, Sam Mullet, is not attempting to control any of his co-defendants' actions, or even lead by example. In fact, Bryan has worked with the other attorneys involved to be sure that each co-defendant do what is best for himself.
The trial is scheduled to begin August 27. It is expected to take three or four weeks.
There was also some discussion Monday about splitting the trial into two trials.
But ultimately, federal prosecutors, as well as defense attorneys convinced the judge that U.S. Marshals can handle the logistics of a trial with 16 co-defendants and 16 attorneys, all but Bryan, appointed public defenders.
The judge said one trial would be easier on victims, who may be called to testify, and on the family members of the co-defendants who have to hire drivers to make it to court each day.
He continued it will be toughest on a jury, who will have to fairly evaluate the guilt or innocence of each individual, many of whom are related and share the same last names.