Bruce Leonard testified that the beatings were carried out so that his sons "would understand the hurt that they caused"

By Chris Harris
Updated June 30, 2016 10:40 AM
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Credit: Mark DiOrio/Observer-Dispatch/AP

Bruce Leonard, the 66-year-old father of the teen brothers who were allegedly beaten for more than a dozen hours inside a secretive upstate New York church in late 2015, took the stand in Oneida County Court on Wednesday, providing a detailed account of the incident that took his 19-year-old son’s life.

Court officials tell PEOPLE Leonard described how he and several other members of the Word of Life Christian Church in Chadwicks, New York, allegedly brutally pummeled and whipped his two teen sons during a church counseling session.

The father, one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, sobbed at times as he recalled the reason for the alleged prolonged gang attacks: Both brothers had been accused of sexually abusing their sister, Grace, as well as the children of their half-sister, Sarah Ferguson.

Wednesday marked the fourth day in Ferguson’s murder trial. Last fall, Christopher Leonard, 17, and his 19-year-old brother, Lucas, were allegedly beaten by several church members, including their own parents. The alleged onslaught lasted more than a dozen hours, and Lucas eventually died from injuries he sustained in the attack.

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

On Monday, Christopher Leonard, who sustained severe injuries during the alleged beatings, testified that he and his brother had molested the children of several of the church’s members, including his half-sister’s infant child.

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Ferguson is facing charges of second-degree murder, first- and second-degree manslaughter, two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree gang assault.

Bruce Leonard was originally set to stand trial with his daughter, but accepted a plea bargain last week, pleading guilty to two counts of assault. He faces 15 years behind bars.

Alleged Beatings with Electrical Cord

On Wednesday, Bruce Leonard, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, testified that Irwin called his family together following a Sunday service before confronting the brothers with allegations of child abuse and witchcraft.

Court officials confirm Bruce Leonard told a judge the alleged beatings began with a punch and a slap, and quickly progressed to electrical cord whippings.

Leonard reportedly testified that the alleged beatings were carried out so that his sons “would understand the hurt that they caused,” and to discipline and punish them. He said he handed a power cord to Ferguson, who, Leonard claims, allegedly asked, “How could you?” as she started whipping them.

He further testified that Lucas admitted having a voodoo doll of Irwin, and said he’d regularly stick pins in it to hurt the pastor.

Court records claim Bruce Leonard said Lucas fell down during the alleged attacks and was ordered to stand back up. Lucas fell a second time, and begged for the alleged violence to cease.

Bruce Leonard told the court that the alleged whippings finally stopped after Lucas Leonard sustained an injury to his genitals. According to court records, Lucas bled out from a laceration to his genitals, causing his death.

Leonard further testified that he told his sons that “blows that hurt drive off evil” as he whipped them, reports Syracuse.com.

Pediatric physician Susan Blatt also testified during Wednesday’s proceedings, telling the court she examined six children the morning after the alleged beatings, and none showed any signs they’d been sexually abused.

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

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

In court, Christopher Leonard said he and his brother might have abused Ferguson’s infant daughter the night before the alleged church beatings.

During his testimony Monday, Christopher Leonard told the court Ferguson was the primary aggressor in the fall attack.

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