Eight members of the Word of Life Church in New Hartford, where a teenager was beaten to death and his brother seriously injured in October, were charged with murder on Tuesday, the Oneida County District Attorney's Office announced.
Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, her mother Traci Irwin, her brothers, Joseph and Daniel Irwin, the victim's parents — Bruce and Deborah Leonard — and his half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, along with Linda Morey and her son David Morey were the eight church leaders and members charged in the 13-count indictment for fatally beating 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and severely injuring his brother Christopher Leonard, 17.
In October, Bruce and Deborah Leonard and Sarah Ferguson, were among the six church members first arrested in connection to his death. The pastor and her mother were not among those initially charged.
Lucas and Christopher were allegedly ambushed inside the church during a “spiritual counseling session” in the hopes they would confess prior sins, authorities said. The session was also called because Lucas had expressed his desire to leave the church, according to officials. The session, where the accused took turns hitting the brothers and holding them down, lasted for 14 hours and only stopped because Lucas "was dead at that point," a church member testified in october. Lucas died of blunt force trauma.
The church's counseling sessions were led by Tiffanie Irwin, 29, who was involved in questioning Lucas during the beating, according to witness testimony. Tiffanie and her brother Joseph pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
Excluding Daniel Irwin, all have been charged with second-degree murder. All eight of them have been charged with manslaughter, kidnapping, assault and gang assault.
Christopher Leonard, who survived the beating with severe injuries, testified that members pummeled him and whipped him with an electrical cord for six or more hours.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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