On Wednesday, seven members of the Word of Life Christian Church plead not-guilty in the beating death of Lucas Leonard and the assault of his younger brother Christopher Leonard in New Hartford, New York last month.
The 13-count grand jury indictment, charging the victims’ father, half-sister, three church leaders (the pastor, spiritual leader, and a deacon) and three other church members with murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, assault and gang assault, was unsealed on Tuesday. It added more serious charges than those filed by police immediately after the attack, the Associated Press reports, and also named more defendants.
Last month, 17-year-old Christopher Leonard testified at a hearing that, after an eight-hour Sunday service, pastor Tiffanie Irwin asked his family to stay behind, along with some other members of the church. Then, Leonard said, he and his brother were beaten about the torso and genitals for hours. His older brother, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, did not survive his injuries.
The beating was reportedly part of a “spiritual counseling” session administered to the boys “in the hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness.”
According to the AP, Tiffanie Irwin, the church pastor, and her brother Joseph, a deacon, pleaded not guilty in Oneida County Court on Tuesday. Another Irwin brother, Daniel, who was included in Tuesday’s indictment but not charged with second-degree murder, is due in court Monday. (He faces manslaughter, kidnapping, assault, and gang assault charges.)
Bruce Leonard, the boys’ father, Sarah Ferguson, their half-sister, Traci Irwin, Tiffanie’s mother (and the church’s spiritual leader), and church members David and Linda Morey pleaded not guilty on Wednesday. (David and Linda Morey are mother and son.)
The victims’ mother, Deborah Leonard, was not included in the new indictment. She was charged with manslaughter last month. Her husband is “grieving as a father would,” his attorney, Don Gerace, told the AP. “There was never any intent to cause Lucas’ death.”
“I don’t believe there’s any evidence Mr. Leonard acted with depraved indifference, nor that he intended to kidnap his son or cause serious physical injury to his son.”