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Amish trial headlines month of September

December 28, 2012
The Herald-Star

From staff reports

Sixteen men and women faced lengthy prison terms after being convicted in September of hate crimes in the hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Bergholz.

The trial focused on an internal dispute within the Amish community and offered a rare glimpse into the closed and usually self-regulating community of believers.

Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, the leader of the Bergholz-based breakaway group, was found guilty of orchestrating the beard and hair cuttings, which prosecutors characterized as an attempt to shame members of the Amish community who he believed had strayed from their beliefs. His followers were found guilty of carrying out the attacks.

A rival bishop told jurors his chest-length beard was chopped to within 1.5 inches of his chin when four or five men dragged him out of his farmhouse in a late-night home invasion. Other witnesses described how sons had pulled their father out of bed and chopped off his beard in the moonlight and how women surrounded their mother-in-law and cut off two feet of her hair, taking it down to the scalp in some places. Witnesses also testified that Mullet had complete control over the settlement that he founded two decades ago and described how his religious teachings and methods of punishments deviated from Amish traditions, including testimony that he'd coerced women at his settlement into having sex with him and had men sleep in chicken coops as punishment.

The hair cuttings, Mullet said, were a response to continuous criticism he'd received from other Amish religious leaders about him being too strict, including shunning people in his own group.

The defendants, including six couples with about 50 children between them, were convicted Sept. 20 in U.S. District Court after four-and-a-half days of deliberations. They faced 20 years or more in prison for their convictions. They face sentencing in a Cleveland federal court on Jan. 24.

In other news in September:

Nearly 2,000 Roman Catholics from throughout Eastern Ohio greeted their new spiritual leader Sept. 10 with prayers, songs and shouts of "Hallelujah" during a three-hour ordination and installation ceremony in Finnegan Fieldhouse at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

"I am grateful to be your shepherd. Our faith is meant to be proclaimed and to be shared, I am delighted to be your bishop. I am yours," said Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton during remarks at the close of the ceremony attended by two cardinals, the Apostolic Nuncio from Washington, D.C., 25 bishops from across the country and 115 priests.

The audience responded with a thundering standing ovation that lasted for several minutes.

The 49-year-old Monforton, a seminary rector and parish priest from the Diocese of Detroit, was named bishop-elect on July 3 to fill the vacancy created in 2011 when former Bishop R. Daniel Conlon was assigned to the Joilet, Ill., diocese.

Retired Steubenville Diocese Bishop Albert H. Ottenweller died Sept. 23 at the age of 96 following a brief illness.

Ottenweller had been living in Toledo since his retirement as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville.

Diocesan Communications Director Pat DeFrancis said Ottenweller was one of the oldest living bishops in the Catholic Church.

Weirton's park board gave historic Margaret Manson Weir pool a reprieve, agreeing to give a community group time to obtain grant money to research the feasibility of preserving its unique architecture and return it to operating condition.

In September, the park board agreed to table demolition of the aged structure indefinitely and authorized preparation of a memorandum of understanding spelling out its willingness to lease the property in its entirety to the nonprofit Marland Heights Community Association.

The delay represents a dramatic change of course for the board, which previously had voted to proceed with demolition of the unique structure.

Heavy Duty Industrial owner Rick Glass said he would be expanding his work force for the second time since his Jefferson County operations center debuted earlier in the year.

Glass said he'd be adding "10 or 20 people" at his Wintersville location, even as he geared up for what he hoped would be a major new business initiative - supplying the oil industry with fresh fracking and drilling water drawn from a 4.5-acre pond on a 26-acre property he was purchasing in the Youngstown area. The pond "butts up to the Mahoning River," he said, adding he already has the permits he'll need to do it in hand.

Glass originally planned to have up to 50 employees on the job locally by year's end, but passed that benchmark months ahead of schedule in June.

During the first seven months of 2012, local leaders say job growth and tax collections were up significantly in Jefferson County. At September's meeting, the Community Improvement Corp. board and Progress Alliance Partners were told that 1,053 more people were employed in Jefferson County in July than at the start of the year.

Likewise, the county's sales tax collections were up nearly $403,000 for the first six months of 2012 compared to the same six-month period a year earlier.

Olympic great Mary Lou Retton, who captivated audiences with a gutsy gold-medal winning performance in 1984, stepped in as keynote speaker at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce's annual membership banquet.

A West Virginia native, Retton stepped in after the chamber's original speaker, internationally renowned composer Marvin Hamlisch, died unexpectedly of lung failure.

Retton, the first American woman ever to win Olympic gold in gymnastics in 1984, told the crowd winning Olympic gold six weeks after knee surgery was "one of the most incredible moments of my life."

The wine was flowing, the music was relaxing and the festivities engaging during the third-annual Friendship Wine and Food Festival in September despite the threat of rain.

The two-day festival featured local food vendors, nonstop musical entertainment and a slew of vintages made by Ohio wineries. Roger Hilty, who at the time was the festival co-organizer and member of the Friendship Park Board, said that while all was going according to plan, there's no guarantee the festival will be back in 2013.

"The festival is in jeopardy for next year," he said. "We are hoping for more support from the public and sponsors for this great event."

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland visited the Obama/Biden re-election headquarters in Steubenville on Sept. 10 to make the case for the president's re-election.

Strickland, also serving as President Obama's national campaign co-chairman, made the stop along with Fred Deel, former director of the Office of Appalachia. During the stop Strickland made an impassioned case for re-electing President Obama over Republican rival Mitt Romney, and why that would be good for Ohio and Jefferson County.

"Ohio is at the center of this election," said Strickland. "No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. That's why this is so important."

Two repeat offenders charged with stealing telephone wire in Jefferson County were sentenced to jail.

Vernon J. Jackson, 29, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Judge David Henderson after pleading guilty to single counts of receiving stolen property and disrupting public service in connection with the theft of telephone wire in the spring.

A codefendant, James A. Roe, 29, of Mingo Junction, who pleaded guilty to charges of complicity to theft and disrupting public service, had previously been sentenced by Henderson to 24 months in prison.

The pair also was ordered to make $84,000 in restitution.

The two men had been charged with stealing more than 1,000 feet of telephone wire from poles in the Steubenville-Mingo Junction area, leaving hundreds of people without phone service.

Authorities said Roe was already on probation after pleading guilty to taking about 1,000 feet of telephone cable in November 2009 in the Toronto-Empire area. He was sentenced to six months in the Eastern Ohio Correction Center and placed on 18 months of probation.

Jackson was sentenced to a year in prison in 2008 after pleading guilty to stealing telephone wire in the Montwell Drive area of Mingo Junction.

Jefferson County commissioners told Smithfield officials they're expected to keep up with their water bills until the county's takeover of the beleaguered system is finalized. The county had proposed taking over the system and forgiving $150,000 owed to the county, but county Sanitary Engineer Shannan Gosbin said they'd continue to bill the village for water until the deal was finalized.

Commissioner Tom Gentile said the takeover will allow the county to make improvements to Smithfield's water system, and pointed out the county also would be able to expand the water system in the south end of the county, while Commissioner Thomas Graham denied suggestions by a Smithfield councilwoman that the county planned to sell the water system to a private company.

Shane Young, 32, of Steubenville was sentenced to four years in prison by Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge David Henderson after admitting to two counts of robbery and one count of burglary.

Young admitted to robbing two businesses - Dollar General on Hollywood Boulevard and the University Boulevard BP gas station - within a 45-minute period July 27.

He became a suspect after his wallet was found in the Dollar General parking lot, police said.

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