Parents Sentenced in Beating Death of Son at Word of Life Church

When he tried to leave his church, Christopher Leonard, 19, was beaten for 12 hours and died from his wounds


The parents who participated in the 2015 beatings of their teenaged sons at a New York church, killing one and seriously injuring the other, were sentenced to prison on Monday after previously pleading guilty to assault, PEOPLE confirms.

Bruce Leonard, 66, was sentenced to 10 years, according to court records. He faced a potential 15-year sentence after accepting a plea bargain last year. He agreed to testify against others accused in the beatings at the Word of Life Christian Church in Chadwicks, a small hamlet located just six miles outside of Utica, New York.

Deborah Leonard, 60, was sentenced to five years. She, too, agreed to a plea deal contingent on her testimony.

The couple’s 19-year-old son, Lucas Leonard, spent the last 12 hours of his life behind the insular church’s walls, as he and his brother, Christopher, now 18, were kicked, whipped, and punched, with intermittent breaks.

The beatings began soon after both brothers approached congregation leaders with their plans to leave the church, which some former members insist is a cult.

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But Christopher, who sustained severe injuries during the beatings, would later testify that he and his brother had molested the children of several of the church’s members, including his half-sister’s infant child.

Prior to Christopher’s admission, prosecutors had long claimed the allegations of abuse against the Leonard brothers were baseless, and that the church’s pastor, Tiffanie Irwin, falsely accused the two teens of sexually abusing their younger siblings and cousins over the course of several years.

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.

Accusations of Child Abuse and Witchcraft

At Ferguson’s trial, Bruce Leonard testified that Tiffanie called his family together, following a Sunday service, before confronting the brothers with allegations of child abuse and witchcraft. He told a judge the beatings began with a punch and a slap and quickly progressed to electrical cord whippings.

Bruce testified that the beatings were carried out so that his sons “would understand the hurt that they caused” and to discipline and punish them.

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Bruce said he handed a power cord to Ferguson, who, Leonard claims, asked the teens, “How could you?” as she started whipping them.

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

Court records show Bruce testified that Lucas fell down during the attacks and was ordered to stand back up. Lucas fell a second time, and he begged for the violence to cease.

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

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