Police: Son Beaten to Death Expressed Interest in Leaving Word of Life Church

Time Warner Cable News, Central New York/October 16, 2015

By Cara Thomas

New Hartford, New York -- Felony exam hearings have ended for the day for four of the six people charged in connection with the Word of Life church beatings.

Late Friday morning, New Hartford Police Chief, Mike Inserra said they learned that Lucas, the oldest son of Bruce and Deborah Leonard, expressed interest in leaving the church.

In court Friday, Deborah Leonard was visibly upset, sniffling and rocking back and forth in her chair in front of the courtroom. Bruce had his eyes closed the entire time.

Officer Justin Gehringer took the stand Friday. He was tasked with taking pictures of Lucas Leonard's body. He testified seeing severe bruising all over Lucas' body.

Daniel Irwin also took the stand. He lives in the church. He said he received a text message saying there was going to be a counseling session involving the Leonard family Sunday. In the main sanctuary, he saw Bruce Leonard, Lucas and Christopher were there in attendance. He said he saw Bruce Leonard hit Lucas in the back five or six times with something that looked like a belt. He also saw him hit Christopher in the same way.

Later, we learned David Morey and Joseph Irwin came upstairs to the residence in a panic saying Lucas was dead. Church members attempted to revive him. Daniel Irwin said he saw Lucas several times that night. He noticed blood on his leg. He said he then saw Lucas again lying on the floor rolling back and forth moaning. That was less than 30 minutes before he heard Lucas was dead.

Irwin said he helps with maintenance around the building. He is a deacon and also a worship leader in the church. He said he saw Sarah Ferguston in the counseling session and saw her swinging something that looked like a belt, but didn't see what she hit. Irwin said he never saw Deborah Leonard hit anyone.

NYS Police Investigator Todd Grant assisted with the homicide investigation. He interviewed Bruce Leonard who did not request an attorney. He spoke with him for about five hours. Grant also spoke with Deborah for several minutes. He said she admitted to him that she hit Lucas with a cord and that her husband had as well.

Deborah was taken to the police barracks in Marcy where the investigator gave her a cord and had her demonstrate how she hit him. She admitted that Sarah also hit Lucas with the cord. Deborah said Sarah was even more mad at Lucas so she hit him harder with the cord.

Investigator Jason Nellis also took the stand. He interviewed Deborah as well. He said she gave two statements. He said she admitted to what she did and informed police about other people's involvement. He said in the beginning Deborah was involved but when everyone moved into the large sanctuary she could hear Lucas crying out.

When Lucas was brought to the hospital, following the violent counseling session, police say his father and sister told hospital staff that Lucas was a child molester. But police say that claim is completely unfounded.

"We took seven children into protective custody and subsequently turned these children over to Oneida County Child Protective Services. These children were interviewed at length by investigators of the Oneida County Child Advocacy Center and they were examined by medical professionals. There's absolutely no indication of any sexual abuse to any of these children. The deceased and his brother are victims in this horrible crime," said Inserra.

Police say the two teens were beaten by at least six people for several hours. Police say in addition to hands and feet, a cord was also used.

Christopher is still in serious condition but he is alert and cooperating with police.

As part of the felony exam, or preliminary hearing, additional evidence about the case could be presented through witness testimony.

The victims' parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard are charged with first-degree manslaughter. The judge denied the defense's request to reduce bail for Bruce and Deborah Leonard. Bail remains at $100,000 for each.

Four other church members, Joseph Irwin, David Morey, Linda Morey, and victims' sister Sarah Ferguson are all charged with assault in the second-degree.

The Morey's were present in the courtroom with their attorney. They posted bail and were released.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos