UTICA, N.Y. — A grand jury indicted eight members of the mysterious Word of Life Church on Tuesday for 13 counts ranging from murder to kidnapping for their alleged involvement in the death of a 19-year-old and the beating of his younger brother during a 14-hour “counseling session.”
Seven of the defendants, including the teenagers’ father and the church’s pastor, were charged with second-degree murder counts. Previously, the most serious charge had been manslaughter.
All eight were charged with manslaughter, kidnapping and assault in relation to Lucas Leonard’s death and faced kidnapping and assault charges in relation to the injuries to his 17-year-old brother, Christopher.
Police say the brothers were beaten in the sanctuary of Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, New York, in October, after Lucas expressed a desire to leave the congregation.
All defendants have entered not guilty pleas, according to an official in the clerk’s office at the Oneida County Court.
This was the first time that Word of Life Pastor Tiffanie Irwin has been named in court documents.
Additionally, her brother Daniel Irwin and mother, Traci Irwin, were named for the first time in relation to the case. Another Irwin sibling, Joseph Irwin, was one of the original individuals arrested in conjunction to the case.
While the teens’ father, Bruce Leonard, was charged, noticeably missing from this indictment was their mother, Deborah Leonard, who had previously been charged with first-degree manslaughter.
According to her attorney, Devin Garramone, she will enter a guilty plea to charges of first-degree assault of Lucas and second-degree assault of Christopher. She will appear in court December 2, according to Garramone.
The grand jury indictment follows a dramatic court appearance last month in which Christopher Leonard testified in court about the day his brother died.
The incident occurred at the secretive church, located about 250 miles north of New York City near Utica, New York. Christopher and Lucas had been involved in a church-related counseling session with their parents and other church members, police said.
Christopher testified that the session turned violent after Lucas indicated that he wanted to leave the church. Police have said that the beating took place over the course of 14 hours, and that Lucas’ injuries in particular were so severe that doctors initially believed he had been shot.
“He was laying on the ground moaning. … I knew something wasn’t right. … I rushed over and saw he wasn’t breathing, so I tried to give him CPR,” Christopher Leonard testified, describing the moments after his brother’s beating.