(Cleveland) - An appeals court has overturned hate-crime convictions of 16 Amish found guilty in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow members of their faith in Ohio.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Wednesday sided with arguments brought by attorneys for the Amish, found guilty two years ago in five attacks in Ohio Amish communities in 2011.

The attacks were in apparent retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced the authoritarian style of leader Sam Mullet Sr.

Mullet's attorney Edward Bryan is hoping that the decision brings his client closer to freedom.

Bryan told Newsradio WTAM 1100 that Mullet was not involved in the attacks, and the prosecution created a carnival atmosphere during the trial, painting Mullet as a cult leader.

Bryan explained that the appeal was based on the vague definition of "hate crime" that was passed by Congress when it created the law. He contends the beard and hair-cutting incidents were domestic or family disputes.

Bryan said the next move is up to federal prosecutors, who can ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

FBI Agent-in-Charge Steve Anthony and U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach following the Amish hair-cutting convictions in 2012.

U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach issued the following statement...

“We respectfully disagree with the two judges who reversed the defendants’ hate crime convictions based on a jury instruction. We remain in awe of the courage of the victims in this case, who were subject to violent attacks by the defendants. We are reviewing the opinion and considering our options.”

Mullet was of accused orchestrating the cuttings in an attempt to shame mainstream members who he believed were straying from their beliefs.

Prosecutors called the attacks hate crimes because religious differences brought about the attacks.

The defense had said there was insufficient evidence linking Mullet to the hair-cutting.

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(Photos by Ken Robinson/WTAM)