CLEVELAND - A lawyer for one of 12 people charged in beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio said Wednesday that he will plead not guilty to federal hate crime charges and that the law itself may be challenged.
The attorney, Dean Carro, represents Lester Miller, 37, a nephew of the alleged ringleader in the attacks linked to a breakaway Amish group and a feud over church discipline.
Carro said the case could lead to questions challenging the hate crimes law.
Referring to the hate crimes statute in the indictment, Carro said, "The questions that are going to be asked are, really, the power of Congress to create such a statute. That's an interesting question."
The hate crime charges were filed under a law that makes an attack a federal crime if it was committed because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
The charges announced Tuesday include conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors say were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.
Five attacks involved cutting women's hair and men's beards and hair. The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
The attorney for another defendant said Tuesday that his client would plead not guilty. There was no immediate comment on behalf of the other defendants.
The alleged ringleader, Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, of Bergholz in eastern Ohio, 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.
Mullet said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.
Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 -- second only to Pennsylvania -- with most living in rural counties south and east of Cleveland.