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Pastor pleads guilty to manslaughter, assault after‘counseling session’ turned fatal

“19-year-old LucasLeonard and his 17-year-old brother Christopher had sinned. One of Lucas’s sinswas his desire to leave the church [Word of Life] entirely, to seek a new path. Tiffanie Irwin,the church’s pastor, along with other worshipers there, wouldn’t accept anysort of new path and decided the teens needed to repent. So, on Oct. 11, 2015,the pastor gathered with her brother Joseph Irwin, mother-son pair Linda andDavid Morey and several other believers at their church in New Hartford, N.Y.,and decided to hold a ‘counseling session.’ Among them were the teens’ parents,Bruce and Deborah Leonard. … During that time, the Associated Press reported,the congregation told the brothers they had to repent for sins of all stripes—suchas using a voodoo doll or allegedly molesting their half-sister’s children, aclaim police say is unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence—accordingto Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara. To force this repentance,the worshipers beat the teens for most of the 14 hours, taking a foldedfour-foot electrical cord to their torsos and genitals while telling them to‘confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness.’ … Sarah Ferguson, the teens’half-sister, was the only one of the nine involved to decline a plea deal. Shewas found guilty after a non-jury trial in July, and she was sentenced to 25years in prison. … ‘There’s always been weird things going on,’ Howard toldWKTV. ‘You always hear dogs, they’re breeding dogs. The cops have been calledthere before, they’re not allowed in the building, they can’t get in thebuilding. The cult thing over here has been going on for a while, I guessaround 30 years. It’s their own religion.’ A reporter from the Syracuse Post-Standard entered the church days after Lucas died. There, he found the place ina state of disarray. One room contained Styrofoam cups of cold coffee and ahalf-eaten pork sandwich. In another room was a framed, stitched textile thatread, in part, ‘We have been commissioned through the written word of God toreach out to those who have not experienced the love of Jesus Christ in theirlives. … Through the systematic training up of saints, our goal is for them toreach out confidently, sharing the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.’ A signstill hung on the front door, reading ‘Welcome to Word of Life.’ It is unclearwhether the house of worship is still operating, although after the arrests,police told the Post-Standard thatseveral children from the church had been placed in protective custody. Sentencinghearings for the eight people who have pleaded guilty are scheduled forDecember and January.” (Washington Post, 10/24/16) [IT 8.1]

Sarah Ferguson, first Word of Life defendant, sentencedfor manslaughter

“The first Word of Lifedefendant to be sentenced proclaimed her love, through tears, for the brothershe whipped to death and the other, whom she assaulted. ‘I do truly love mybrothers. I did not intent [] or purposefully inflict, knowingly, seriousphysical damage. I was not aware. I just, I snapped. My brain just could not…’sobbed Sarah Ferguson Thursdaymorning in Oneida County Court… Dwyer, the same judge who found Ferguson guiltyof manslaughter, gang assault and assault with respect to Lucas and ChristopherLeonard, sentenced their half-sister to a total of 25 years in prison. Dwyerhad acquitted Ferguson on a murder trial she had faced. Victims Lucas andChristopher Leonard’s parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, who are co-defendantsin this case, have pleaded guilty. They await sentencing, contingent upon theiragreement to testify against the others. Church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin,her mother, Traci Irwin, brothers Daniel and Joseph Irwin, along with David andLinda Morey—all church members—still await trial. The tentative trial date forthe remaining defendants is October 12.” (, 09/01/16) [IT 8.1]

Two More Word of Life defendants plead guilty, face 2Years in jail

“Mother and sondefendants in the Word of Life fatal beating case entered guilty pleas onFriday to reduced charges. Traci and Daniel Irwin, originally charged withmurder and manslaughter, respectively, each pleaded guilty to two counts ofunlawful imprisonment; one for 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, who died in thebeating inside Word of Life Church in Chadwicks last fall, and one for his 17-year-oldbrother, Christopher, who survived the assault. The agreed-upon sentence: atotal of two years in the Oneida County Jail for each victim, with credit fortime served. … Traci Irwin will be sentenced December 5; her son, Daniel Irwin,December 9. Still pending are the cases against church members Linda Morey andher son, David Morey, Pastor Tiffanie Irwin and her brother, Joseph Irwin. The judgesaid that if any more cases are going to be resolved through pleas, it shouldhappen in the next two weeks.” (, 10/07/16) [IT 8.1]

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