Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Teen Recounts Deadly Beating Inside Secretive Church

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Teen Recounts Deadly Beating Inside Secretive Church

Article excerpt

NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. - Called to a meeting in the sanctuary of their church, teenage brothers Christopher and Lucas Leonard were told to stand and answer for what they had done. When the answers didn't come, the beatings began.

Christopher Leonard, 17, said he was punched in the stomach by a fellow church member. Then his parents, his half sister and other congregants delivered a beating that racked his whole body, until he was taken to another room with earplugs and earmuffs to keep him from hearing what was going on around him, he said.

"It hurt," he said, "everywhere."

When he was finally brought back to the sanctuary, he saw his 19- year-old brother collapse on the floor, moaning - and, then, not breathing.

His voice barely audible in court, Christopher Leonard gave his first public account Wednesday of the violence last week that sent him to the hospital and killed his brother. Six people have been arrested, including the brothers' parents and half-sister.

Testifying at a hearing for the half sister, Christopher didn't explain what the brothers were being punished for, and the judge stopped him from disclosing what questions they were asked.

Outside court, authorities have said the beating erupted during "spiritual counseling" over Lucas' desire to leave Word of Life Christian Church, a small, secretive and highly regimented congregation in upstate New York.

The teens' parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, are charged with manslaughter. The half sister, 33-year-old Sarah Ferguson, and three other church members are charged with assault.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing, the judge ruled there is sufficient evidence for the case against Ferguson to go forward.

Christopher Leonard testified that after an eight-hour Sunday service Oct. 11, pastor Tiffanie Irwin asked the Leonard family and some others to stay behind for a meeting.

The purpose?

The slight, bespectacled teenager paused, then said only: "To talk about what we had done. Lucas and I."

He said he and his brother answered some questions during the interrogation but didn't want to answer others.

Over what Christopher Leonard estimated was six or more hours, he was pummeled with fists and whipped with a 4-foot, folded electrical cord on the back and elsewhere, he said. …

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