Bruce Leonard, a New York man on trial for beating his son to death with an electrical cord during a “counseling session” at the Word of Life Church, has taken a plea deal that will require him to testify against his daughter and wife, CBS News is reporting.
Sarah Ferguson is set for trial, along with nine others, for beating her half-brother, Lucas Leonard, 19, to death and putting his brother, Christopher Leonard, 17, in the hospital last October. The assault occurred during a church counseling session and went on for 14 hours over the next two days.
Chris Leonard, 17, set to testify against sister, Sarah Ferguson, detailing brutal attack inside Word of Life Church pic.twitter.com/fhyWu1c8jr
— Lindsay Nielsen (@Lindsayon10) October 21, 2015
Her step-father, Bruce Leonard, pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree assault Wednesday. He will be arraigned with his step-daughter on a slew of charges, including murder, and is expected to testify against her and the other defendants. The 66-year-old cried during proceedings in Oneida County Court. His wife, Deborah Leonard, is also penciled for trial.
According to reports, leaders and members of the Word of Life Christian Church beat up the brothers because they talked about leaving the church located in New Hartford.
Bruce Leonard, 66, said he, along with a group of other church members, whipped his teenage son and younger brother with an electrical cord. The boys were struck in the genitals and torso. When hospital authorities first saw Lucas Leonard, they thought the teenager who was drenched in blood had been shot.
— Carrie Bostick (@OD_Bostick) June 22, 2016
The pastor of the church, Tiffanie Irwin, was indicted on a 13-count charge alongside her mother and brothers, Joseph and Daniel Irwin, who are also pastors. Two other church members, Linda Morey and her son, David Morey, have also been indicted.
Investigators say what was meant to be a “spiritual counseling” session spiraled out of control into a vicious mob attack inside the Word of Life Christian Church, a former elementary school that now serves as a red brick church and residence for the Irwins.
The surviving brother, Christopher Leonard, who testified at a hearing, said the pastor, Tiffanie Irwin, had asked the Leonard family and a few others to wait behind for a meeting after an eight-hour service on Sunday. The traumatized teen, speaking in a voice just a note above a whisper, said he and his brother were interrogated, separated, and restrained before being viciously beaten after the pastor had asked them to explain what they had done.
“Joe Irwin came over grabbed me by the sweatshirt, counted to three and then he punched me in the stomach.”
Christopher talked about being whipped with a cord that was at least four feet long, adding that his step-sister struck him everywhere except his head, causing severe injuries to his genitals and torso.
When police arrived, the Leonard family refused to tell them where to find the boys. They eventually found them on the second floor.
The Word of Life Church, regarded as a cult by those who live close by because of its secrecy, has been around for 30 years in New Hartford, a town with around 22,000 people. The church once had 40 members but was down to 20 when the fatal beatings occurred.
Daniel Irwin, a deacon in the Word of Life Christian Church, told authorities that his sister, Tiffanie Irwin, had accused Lucas Leonard of practicing witchcraft. According to his statement, Lucas had confessed that he wanted to make a voodoo doll of the pastor and wanted all other church leaders to die mysterious deaths.
[Image via New Hartford Police Department]