Grace Ferguson, 16, testified Tuesday that both of her brothers had touched her in a sexual manner, starting when she was only 4

By Chris Harris
Updated June 28, 2016 07:20 PM
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Credit: Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch/AP

Christopher Leonard, the 17-year-old survivor of an alleged prolonged beating last fall inside a secretive upstate New York church, admitted while testifying on Monday he “inappropriately” touched several children, PEOPLE learns.

The unexpected revelation came during the third day of the murder trial for Leonard’s half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, as he recalled the events of Oct. 12, 2015.

That evening, Leonard and his 19-year-old brother, Lucas, were allegedly whipped and pummeled by several church members, including their own parents. The alleged violence lasted more than a dozen hours, and Lucas eventually died from injuries he’d sustained.

Prosecutors contend the alleged beatings began soon after both brothers approached church leaders with their plans to defect.

The alleged violence, authorities say, was fueled by the church’s 30-year-old pastor, Tiffanie Irwin. Initially, authorities believe Irwin falsely accused the two teens of sexually abusing their younger siblings and cousins over the course of several years.

But on Monday, Christopher Leonard admitted in Oneida County Court that he’d touched the children of some of the church’s members. He denied ever having intercourse with them.

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Prosecutors have long claimed the allegations of abuse against the Leonard brothers were baseless.

According to WUTR, Leonard said he and his brother might have abused Ferguson’s infant daughter the night before the alleged church beatings.

Both brothers were allegedly flogged with an electrical cord during the incident, and on Monday, Leonard told the court Ferguson was the primary aggressor, WUTR reports.

In separate testimony Tuesday, Grace Ferguson, Christopher’s sister, told the court today that both of her brothers had touched her in a sexual manner.

The 16-year-old girl testified in court the touching began when she was only 4, and ended when she turned 13-years-old.

She further claimed Lucas Leonard had said he wanted to leave the church so he could molest little girls and get away with it, and told the judge she moved in with her sister last year, after her brother Lucas watched her take a shower.

Grace Ferguson, who witnessed the alleged beatings, recalled for the court how her brothers begged their attackers to stop, but that the violence continued for as long as the teens denied their pastor’s claims.

She told the judge that the allegations of abuse were “facts,” according to reports.

Multiple church members have been charged in Lucas’s death. Ferguson faces murder and other charges, with the other defendants in the case expected to go on trial in September.

Those with outstanding criminal charges stemming from the beatings include pastor Tiffanie Irwin, Irwin’s mother, Traci Irwin, and Tiffanie’s brothers Joseph and Daniel Irwin. Mother and son Word of Life members Linda and David Morey are also facing charges. All have pleaded not guilty.

The teens’s parents – 66-year-old Bruce and 60-year-old Deborah Leonard – have both accepted plea bargains for assault from the prosecution. They have agreed to testify against the seven other defendants facing charges for their roles in last fall’s violence.