UTICA, N.Y. - In October 2015, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard died from his injuries while his brother Christopher had to spend time in a hospital. They were beaten up by group of believers from Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford while trying to be “persuaded” not to leave the church. More than a year later, their parents, Bruce Leonard and Deborah Leonard, who also took roles in this crime, are finally sentenced. Bruce was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his wife, Deborah, received a five-year sentence Monday in Oneida County Court.
The Word of Life Christian Church has existed for as many as 30 years in a rural part of New Hartford, a town of 22,000 people about 50 miles from Syracuse. The church once had 40 or more members but now counts closer to 20.
Teen brothers, Lucas and Christopher Leonard were brought in for a 14-hour counseling session with the adults in order to “confess their sins” — which included the fact that both of the boys wanted to leave Word of Life Christian Church. (They were also accused of witchcraft and sexual molestation.) One of them, Lucas, ended up dead after this session and the other one, Christopher, was seriously injured. For this monstrous crime 8 people were charged: Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, Traci Irwin, Tiffanie’s mother, her two brothers, Joseph and Daniel Irwin, Bruce Leonard, the victim’s father, Deborah Leonard, the victim’s mother, Sarah Ferguson, the teens’ half-sister and two other church members, Linda Morey and her son, David Morey. All eight face charges of manslaughter, kidnapping, assault and gang assault for the attacks on Lucas Leonard and his 17-year-old brother, Christopher.
Irwin, 30, avoided murder charges by pleading guilty to manslaughter and assault and was sentenced to 12 years. Joseph Irwin, Tiffanie’s 23-year-old brother, also pleaded guilty to first-degree gang assault and second-degree assault and was sentenced to eight years in prison. David Morey, 27, and his mother, 55-year-old Linda Morey, both pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault and were sentenced to five years. Tiffanie’s mother, Traci Irwin, and her son, Daniel Irwin, pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment and were both sentenced to two years. Sarah Ferguson, the teens’ half-sister, was the only defendant involved in the 2015 attack to decline a plea deal. In July 2016, she was convicted of manslaughter and assault but was cleared of murder. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Finally, Lucas’ father and mother were sentenced to ten and five years. There’s no amount of jail time that could make up for what these people did but it seems that this sentence is not appropriate for the crime committed. They prioritized their religious dogma over parent’s love and lives of their son and no sentence can be appropriate.
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