Disturbing new details have emerged in the murder of one son and the brutal beating of another by members of their own family during a cult ritual in their Upstate NY church.
Called to a meeting in the sanctuary of the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, NY, teenage brothers Christopher and Lucas Leonard were told to stand and answer a series of questions.
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 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. He suffered injuries to his torso and genitals.
Later, he said, he rushed over to Lucas on the floor in the sanctuary, noticed he wasn’t breathing and tried with a church leader to revive him.
Barred from riding in the family van that carried his brother to a hospital, Christopher was taken to the hospital by other congregants but didn’t go in, he recalled. Instead, they drove him back and made him a bed on the second floor of the school-turned-church. He went to sleep, though it hurt to breathe and he repeatedly vomited.
Police have said the teens’ parents and other congregants wouldn’t tell officers where the injured Christopher was, and authorities searched for hours before a former church member helped get him on the phone.
The mother’s lawyer has said she was too timid to stop the beating. The father’s attorney has said prosecutors haven’t proved the couple intended to inflict serious injuries.
The pastor hasn’t been charged and hasn’t commented on the beating.
During the hearing, Ferguson stared down at the defense table in a small courtroom that officials had rearranged so that her brother would be a little farther away from her while he was on the stand.
“I can’t imagine the stress he was under to go into a courtroom … to testify against his sister,” District Attorney Scott McNamara said.
The case has dragged the reclusive church’s ways into public view in New Hartford, a town of 22,000 people about 50 miles from Syracuse where many had wondered what went on behind the brick walls.
The teens’ uncle Jimmy Stewart said Wednesday that he and his wife attended Word of Life in the 1990s but never joined because they felt “something wasn’t right.” The church’s pastors then forbade the Leonard children to associate with his family, he said.
Stewart said he long worried that “something like this would happen.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article
somebody should check out that church and they should start taking away the Christian in their religion. It has nothing to do with Christians this is a cult and a miserable pastor in charge. What they do to these people is sick because this whole cult is sick and should be investigated because they will probably find more people who have lost their life or are injured by the people from the church.
shouldn’t this make all of us wonder why the judge stopped the boy from answering why the adults did this to them? the newest religion in the US is the mussy which as we all know is not a religion but a satanic group trying to convert the world or a truly satanic group. does anybody know how the first abortion came about? it is from a satanic ritual where they devour the baby after it is aborted.
Justin Wachin says
Everyone present for this beating should be investigated by a grand jury. The grand jury should indict every one who was part of this event, whether they were participating in the beating or just watching.
This is not a Christian practice in any shape form or fashion. Nowhere in the Bible did Jesus tell His followers to beat anyone. These people are idiots and some are now murderers. They should face prosecution and punishment for their crimes. This “church” should be shut down since it has nothing to do with Christianity.
Apparently, the “Word of Life” is DEATH. Some pretty famous people involved here, Sarah Ferguson and Jimmy Stewart just to name two. Sounds like maybe they should be BURNED at the STAKE!
Well, let’s just be thankful third world war does not erupt this weekend, with all the muslim terrorists, falling jets, black student riots, Europe shootings and socialist/fascist election debates. Let’s just quietly enjoy our turkeys tonight (if we can afford that) before we stomp on each other on black friday sales.