Teen Recounts Deadly Church Beating

He testifies that ordeal lasted more than 6 hours
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 22, 2015 3:18 AM CDT
Teen Recounts Deadly Church Beating
Christopher Leonard appears in court to give a sworn testimony during a felony hearing for his half sister, Sarah Ferguson, on Wednesday in New Hartford, NY.   (Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

His voice barely audible in court, 17-year-old Christopher Leonard gave his first public account Wednesday of the violence last week that sent him to the hospital and killed his 19-year-old brother Lucas. He 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, "to talk about what we had done. Lucas and I." When the answers didn't come, the beatings began. 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 and discovered he wasn't breathing.

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. (After the couple was arrested, multiple neglected animals were found in their Clayville, NY, home.)

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