Word of Life teen beaten to death by church leaders had been accused of practicing witchcraft

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Witness Says Parents Beat Son to Death Over Witchcraft


According to a deacon at the church where Lucas Leonard, 19, was beaten to death in a "counseling session" last week, the incident was brought on by the dead teen's practice of witchcraft.

Daniel Irwin, 24, who wasn't a participant in the attack, testified in a pretrial hearing on Wednesday that this was the nature of the "sin" that prompted the confrontation. Irwin testified that Lucas Leonard confessed to practicing voodoo in response to an accusation by Word of Life's pastor Tiffany Irwin (who is also Daniel's sister). Leonard even contemplated making a voodoo doll of the pastor, Irwin said on the stand, as he wanted church elders to "die."

See photos of the accused in court:

15 PHOTOS
Upstate New York church killing, Lucas Leonard - family in court
See Gallery
Word of Life teen beaten to death by church leaders had been accused of practicing witchcraft
In this undated photo provided by the New Hartford Police Department in New Hartford, N.Y., Bruce Leonard is shown. Leonard and his wife, Deborah Leonard of Clayville, N.Y., have been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the beating death of their 19-year-old son, Lucas. (New Hartford Police Department via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the New Hartford Police Department in New Hartford, N.Y., Deborah Leonard is shown. Leonard and her husband, Bruce Leonard of Clayville, N.Y., were charged with first-degree manslaughter in the beating death of their 19-year-old son, Lucas. (New Hartford Police Department via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the New Hartford Police Department in New Hartford, N.Y., Sarah Ferguson is shown. Ferguson, a member of the Word of Life Church has been charged with assault for beating 19-year-old Lucas Leonard inside the church. The New Hartford Police Department say 65-year-old Bruce Leonard and 59-year-old Deborah Leonard of Clayville are charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their son Lucas. Four fellow church members, including Ferguson have been charged with assault. (New Hartford Police Department via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the New Hartford Police Department in New Hartford, N.Y., David Morey is shown. Morey, a member of the Word of Life Church has been charged with assault for beating 19-year-old Lucas Leonard inside the church. The New Hartford Police Department say 65-year-old Bruce Leonard and 59-year-old Deborah Leonard of Clayville are charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their son Lucas. Four fellow church members, including Morey have been charged with assault. (New Hartford Police Department via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the New Hartford Police Department in New Hartford, N.Y., Linda Morey is shown. Morey, a member of the Word of Life Church has been charged with assault for beating 19-year-old Lucas Leonard inside the church. The New Hartford Police Department say 65-year-old Bruce Leonard and 59-year-old Deborah Leonard of Clayville are charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their son Lucas. Four fellow church members, including Morey have been charged with assault. (New Hartford Police Department via AP)
In this undated photo provided by the New Hartford Police Department in New Hartford, N.Y., Joseph Irwin is shown. Irwin, a member of the Word of Life Church has been charged with assault for beating 19-year-old Lucas Leonard inside the church. The New Hartford Police Department say 65-year-old Bruce Leonard and 59-year-old Deborah Leonard of Clayville are charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their son Lucas. Four fellow church members, including Irwin have been charged with assault. (New Hartford Police Department via AP)
Sarah Ferguson arrives at New Hartford Town Court on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Parents charged with beating their teenage son to death inside a church are giving diverging versions of what happened, though lawyers for both said Thursday the couple hadn't intended the brutality that unfolded. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Deborah Leonard enters the courtroom for a hearing, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Leonard and her husband have been charged with fatally beating their 19-year-old son inside a church, and four fellow church members have been charged with assault in an attack that also left the young man's brother severely injured. (Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
Joseph Irwin stands in court during a hearing, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce Leonard and his wife Deborah Leonard have been charged with fatally beating their 19-year-old son inside a church, while Irwin is one four fellow church members who have been charged with assault in an attack that also left the young man's brother severely injured. (Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
Bruce Leonard enters the courtroom for a hearing, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Leonard and his wife have been charged with fatally beating their 19-year-old son inside a church, and four fellow church members have been charged with assault in an attack that also left the young man's brother severely injured. (Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
Linda Morey, left, and David Morey, right, wait appear in front of Judge Bill M. Virkler during a hearing, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce Leonard and his wife Deborah Leonard have been charged with fatally beating their 19-year-old son inside a church, while the Moreys are two of four fellow church members who have been charged with assault in an attack that also left the young man's brother severely injured. (Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
Joseph Irwin arrives at New Hartford Town Court on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Bruce Leonard arrives at New Hartford Town Court on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Deborah Leonard grows emotional as testimony is given a hearing, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Leonard and his husband have been charged with fatally beating their 19-year-old son inside a church, and four fellow church members have been charged with assault in an attack that also left the young man's brother severely injured. (Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Police refuted the witchcraft motivation, as well as previous claims that the boys were molesting children in the church. A desire to escape the New Hartford church was what led to his being set upon by church elders and his family members, police maintain.

Irwin wasn't present for the beating, instead waiting outside the room for the duration. Just after dawn he caught a quick glimpse of Leonard, who was close to death. "I remember that he was rolling himself back and forth on the floor and making a sustained monotone moan," Irwin said. Leonard would be dead shortly after, around mid-morning. Witnessing only a few moments of the beating, he described what he saw as "very hard and violent."

Lucas Leonard's younger brother Christopher, 17, was also assaulted, but he survived. He testified, in a hushed tone, describing the brutal multi-hour attack. With a four-foot electrical cord folded over itself, his father, mother, sister, and fellow church members took their turns on the boys. Neither attempted to defend themselves, he said. At one point, while Lucas was being interrogated by church members, Christopher was made to leave the room and wear earmuffs. After reentering the room, he witnessed his brother collapsing.

Christopher's attempts to perform CPR on his brother failed to resuscitate him.

RELATED: See photos from the crime scene

18 PHOTOS
Upstate New York church killing, Lucas Leonard - crime scene photos
See Gallery
Word of Life teen beaten to death by church leaders had been accused of practicing witchcraft
The Word of Life church is seen on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten in the church on Sunday, one fatally, in an effort by their parents, sister and other members to get them to confess their sins, police said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Police walk outside the Word of Life church on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, inside the church on Sunday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
The Leonard family residence is seen on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Clayville, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their 19-year-old son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, at the nearby Word of Life church on Sunday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Map locates New Hartford, N.Y.; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;
The Leonard family residence is seen on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Clayville, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their 19-year-old son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, at the nearby Word of Life church on Monday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
A school bus passes the Word of Life church on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten in the church on Sunday, one fatally, in an effort by their parents, sister and other members to get them to confess their sins, police said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Valerie Giannatelli walks past the Word of Life church with children from her daycare center on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, inside the church on Sunday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Police talk to a man through a fence while serving paperwork at the Word of Life church on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, inside the church on Sunday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
The Word of Life church is seen on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten in the church on Sunday, one fatally, in an effort by their parents, sister and other members to get them to confess their sins, police said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Police knock on the door of the Word of Life church while serving paperwork on a church member, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, inside the church on Sunday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra speaks about a fatal beating of a 19-year-old inside the Word of Life church during an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, inside the church on Sunday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Police walk outside the Word of Life church on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in New Hartford, N.Y. Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged in the beating death of their son, Lucas, and the severe beating of his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, inside the church on Sunday. Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother's beating, including Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
People attend a candlelight vigil in honor Lucas Leonard and Christopher Leonard, two teenagers brothers who were beaten during a church counseling session, at St. Patrick St. Anthony Church in Chadwicks, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Lucas Leonard died in the attack at the Word of Life Christian Church in the central New York town of New Hartford. (Tina Russel/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
The crowd chants songs during a candlelight vigil in honor of Lucas Leonard and Christopher Leonard, two teenagers brothers who were beaten during a church counseling session, at St. Patrick St. Anthony Church in Chadwicks, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Lucas Leonard died in the attack at the Word of Life Christian Church in the central New York town of New Hartford. (Tina Russel/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
Lauryn Johns signs a banner during a candlelight vigil in honor of Lucas Leonard and Christopher Leonard, two teenagers brothers who were beaten during a church counseling session, at St. Patrick St. Anthony Church in Chadwicks, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Lucas Leonard died in the attack at the Word of Life Christian Church in the central New York town of New Hartford. (Tina Russel/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
Laura Petrilli, left, and Bianca Petrilli attend a candlelight vigil in honor of Lucas Leonard and Christopher Leonard, two teenagers brothers who were beaten during a church counseling session, at St. Patrick St. Anthony Church in Chadwicks, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Lucas Leonard died in the attack at the Word of Life Christian Church in the central New York town of New Hartford. (Tina Russel/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
Charlie Sherman plays a guitar and sings during a candlelight vigil in honor of Lucas Leonard and Christopher Leonard, two teenagers brothers who were beaten during a church counseling session, at St. Patrick St. Anthony Church in Chadwicks, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Lucas Leonard died in the attack at the Word of Life Christian Church in the central New York town of New Hartford. (Tina Russel/Observer-Dispatch via AP, Pool)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


More from NY Mag:
Joe Biden's Not Running for President, But He Still Sounds Like a Candidate
What to Expect at Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Hearing
4 Things We Learned About Joe Biden's 2016 Decision

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners