A pastor and three other church members accept guilty pleas in the fatal beating of a teen who wanted to leave the church.
Word of Life Christian Church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, her brother Joseph Irwin and mother and son church members Linda Morey and David Morey have entered guilty pleas in the church orchestrated beating of two teen boys, leaving one dead and the other severely injured.
Reports indicate the teens were beaten because they discussed leaving the congregation.
Lucas Leonard, 19, was severely beaten by members of the church last October, suffering injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs that ultimately proved to be fatal.
Lucas’ 17-year-old brother, Christopher, was also beaten during the so-called “counseling session,” and also suffered severe injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs. However, after an extended stay in the hospital, Christopher recovered.
The Utica-Observer Dispatch reports on the details of Friday’s court proceedings:
30-year-old Pastor Tiffanie Irwin pleaded guilty to two felonies: third-degree manslaughter in the death of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and felony second-degree assault of then-17-year-old Christopher Leonard.
Pastor Irwin faces 12 years in state prison and will be sentenced Monday, Dec. 19. As of now, all those charged in the brutal beatings have either pleaded guilty or were found guilty of their crimes.
Linda Morey, 55, and her son David Morey, 27 pleaded to two counts of felony second-degree assault and will face five-year prison sentences. They’ll be sentenced Monday, Jan. 9.
Pastor Irwin’s borther, Joseph Irwin, 23, accepted eight years in prison as he pleaded guilty to felony first-degree gang assault and second-degree assault. He will be sentenced Monday, Dec. 19.
Previously, the teens’ mother, Deborah Leonard, 60, and father, Bruce Leonard, 66, pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree assault. Traci Irwin and her son Daniel Irwin accepted plea offers to two years in county jail on two counts of felony first-degree unlawful imprisonment.Sarah Ferguson, the teens’ sister, was tried in June and found guilty of first-degree manslaughter, two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree gang assault. She was sentenced to 25 years in state prison.
At the time of the suspects arrest, police said the “spiritual counseling session” at the church was in reality an hours-long attack in which the teen boys were repeatedly whipped with cords, pummeled with fists, and kicked. They suffered severe injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs.
A church member testified that the “counseling session” lasted for 14 hours and only stopped because Lucas “was dead at that point.”
Police report church members were trying to get the brothers to confess their sins and seek forgiveness.
Fitting the pattern of Christian abuse, it should also be noted that Lucas Leonard and his younger brother Christopher were home-schooled, and cut off from the outside world.