Cops: Teen Beaten to Death Wanted to Leave Church

Witness claims he confessed to witchcraft
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2015 6:46 AM CDT
Cops: Teen Beaten to Death Wanted to Leave Church
Deborah Leonard enters the courtroom for a hearing, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, NY.   (Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

Some chilling details have emerged in the death of a man who was beaten for hours in what the Word of Life Christian Church called a "counseling session." Police say church members have told them 19-year-old Lucas Leonard's ordeal lasted more than 10 hours and the "counseling" was related to his desire to leave the secretive church, NBC reports. According to documents seen by the New York Times, church member Daniel Irwin says the session began after a Sunday night service in which the teenager confessed to practicing witchcraft and said he wanted church elders to die. At a hearing on Friday, Irwin, a church deacon, testified that he had seen Leonard's father beating him with what looked like a belt, reports Reuters. Police say it was an electrical cord.

Church members and a neighbor have told police that Lucas wanted to leave the church, possibly to join the Army, NBC reports. The teenager's parents and half-sister are among six people charged in the death. His 17-year-old brother, Christopher, was also beaten and is recovering in hospital. Irwin testified that the last time he saw Lucas, he "was rolling himself back and forth on the floor and making a sustained monotone moan." Police say they have found nothing to back up claims that Lucas had sexually abused children in the church, and former Word of Life members tell the Times that church leaders had been known to spread such rumors as a way of maintaining total control over the congregation. (Read more religion stories.)

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