Lawyer: Mom too meek to stop fatal beating of son in church

Couple Accused of Beating Son to Death in Church

NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. (AP) — A woman charged with beating her teenage son to death inside a church felt helpless to stop an intervention that spiraled into violent punishment by others, her lawyer said Thursday.

Deborah Leonard stands charged with manslaughter in the death of her 19-year-old son, Lucas, but her lawyer Devin Garramone, said he believed other people caused the fatal injuries. Six people have been arrested in the beatings of Lucas and his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, who were pummeled with fists and kicked at the Word of Life church in New Hartford during what police have described as a spiritual counseling session to urge them to confess their sins and seek forgiveness.

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Like police, Garramone said he wasn't certain what supposed conduct led to the encounter Sunday night. But he said Deborah Leonard "had no idea how far it would be taken" and didn't have the emotional strength to oppose others in a church where she'd worshipped for 30 years.

"It looks like she went along with it, and it spun out of control," he said. "This woman is so meek and timid, she didn't have the temerity to stand up to them and say, 'You're not punishing my kid. You're not doing this.'"

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She and her husband — the boys' father, Bruce Leonard — have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Four other people, including the victims' 33-year-old sister, Sarah Ferguson, have pleaded not guilty to assault. Lawyers for the father and the sister haven't commented.

Police have said more arrests are expected as the investigation continues into the beatings, which unfolded at an insular church that also has served as home to some of its members.

The teens suffered injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs during an hourslong attack after services "in hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness," Police Chief Michael Inserra said Wednesday.

See the arrests made in the death of Lucas Leonard:

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After Lucas Leonard was taken to the hospital, police suspected his younger brother had been hurt, too, but his relatives wouldn't tell officers where he was, the chief said. After searching for hours, police found him on the second floor of the church, housed in a red-brick former elementary school.

It has long stirred curiosity and suspicion in a rural part of the former mill town of New Hartford, about 50 miles from Syracuse. Residents have wondered, "Why are they so secretive? Why are there no kids out playing?" said Nancy Kneller, who used to work at a Catholic church next door.

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Tara Litz, who used to live near the church, remembers being puzzled by the members' seeming seclusion and chanting in the night. But they would also offer her bread, cakes and invitations to join in church activities, she said.

"They were always very kind to me," she said.

In nearby Clayville, a village of 350 people where the Leonards live, neighbors recalled a highly religious family that kept mostly to itself.

The Leonards home-schooled their children, eschewed TV and did not take part in Halloween, either leaving home or turning off all the lights, neighbor Jim Constantine said. Some Christians do not observe Halloween because of its pagan origins and macabre themes.

Lucas and Christopher Leonard read the Bible two hours a day at their parents' insistence and weren't allowed to go to others' homes for sleepovers, neighbor Nicole Howard said.

"They weren't allowed to do normal things, but they tried to be as normal as they could be," she said.

They weren't entirely isolated from everyday life: Lucas Leonard routinely was hired to watch Constantine's dog when he was away, including this past weekend.

"Pleasant kid. No bad talk," Constantine said. "No nothing.

___

Associated Press writer John Kekis and video journalist Ted Shaffrey contributed from New Hartford, and AP writer Jennifer Peltz contributed from New York.

RELATED: How church attendance fares across the 50 states

42 PHOTOS
States by Church Attendance
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Lawyer: Mom too meek to stop fatal beating of son in church

49. Maine

Attend Weekly: 20%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 14%
Attend Seldom to Never: 65%

(Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

48. Massachusetts

Attend Weekly: 22%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 17%
Attend Seldom to Never: 59%

(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

47. Washington, D.C. 

Attend Weekly: 23%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 28%
Attend Seldom to Never: 47%

(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

46. Washington

Attend Weekly: 24%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 17%
Attend Seldom to Never: 58%

(Photo by View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images)

44. Hawaii

Attend Weekly: 25%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 18%
Attend Seldom to Never: 56%

(Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)

43. Colorado

Attend Weekly: 25%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 19%
Attend Seldom to Never: 55%

(Caleb Harper via Getty Images)

42. Connecticut

Attend Weekly: 25%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 19%
Attend Seldom to Never: 54%

(Robert Ford via Getty Images)

41. Alaska

Attend Weekly: 26%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 14%
Attend Seldom to Never: 57%

(Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/MCT via Getty Images)

40. Montana

Attend Weekly: 27%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 17%
Attend Seldom to Never: 55%

(Joanna McCarthy via Getty Images)

39. Nevada

Attend Weekly: 27%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 18%
Attend Seldom to Never: 53%

(Photo via Getty Images)

37. California

Attend Weekly: 28%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 19%
Attend Seldom to Never: 51%

(Doug Steakley via Getty Images)

36. Wyoming

Attend Weekly: 28%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 18%
Attend Seldom to Never: 52%

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

34. Wisconsin

Attend Weekly: 29%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 24%
Attend Seldom to Never: 45%

(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

33. New Jersey

Attend Weekly: 30%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 22%
Attend Seldom to Never: 46%

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

32. Minnesota

Attend Weekly: 31%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 23%
Attend Seldom to Never: 45%

(Photo via Getty Images)

31. South Dakota

Attend Weekly: 31%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 25%
Attend Seldom to Never: 43%

(Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux/Liaison)

30. Maryland

Attend Weekly: 31%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 21%
Attend Seldom to Never: 45%

(William Sherman via Getty Images)

29. Florida

Attend Weekly: 32%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 21%
Attend Seldom to Never: 45%

(Tammy Lee Bradley via Getty Images)

28. Iowa

Attend Weekly: 32%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 23%
Attend Seldom to Never: 44%

(Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

26. North Dakota

Attend Weekly: 32%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 29%
Attend Seldom to Never: 37%

(Tyler Olson via Getty Images)

25. Illinois

Attend Weekly: 32%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 21%
Attend Seldom to Never: 45%

(Henryk Sadura via Getty Images)

24. Ohio

Attend Weekly: 32%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 20%
Attend Seldom to Never: 47%

(Steven Miric via Getty Images)

23. Michigan

Attend Weekly: 32%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 19%
Attend Seldom to Never: 47%

(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

22. Kansas

Attend Weekly: 33%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 21%
Attend Seldom to Never: 46%

(Photo via Getty Images)

21. Arizona

Attend Weekly: 33%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 18%
Attend Seldom to Never: 48%

(Natalia Bratslavsky via Getty Images)

19. Idaho

Attend Weekly: 34%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 16%
Attend Seldom to Never: 49%

(Caleb Harper via Getty Images)

18. Missouri

Attend Weekly: 35%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 22%
Attend Seldom to Never: 42%

(Photo via Getty Images)

17. Delaware

Attend Weekly: 35%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 18%
Attend Seldom to Never: 46%

(Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

16. Virginia

Attend Weekly: 35%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 22%
Attend Seldom to Never: 41%

(Brianna May via Getty Images)

15. Indiana

Attend Weekly: 35%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 21%
Attend Seldom to Never: 42%

(Photo via Getty Images)

13. New Mexico

Attend Weekly: 36%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 17%
Attend Seldom to Never: 45%

(Carl Weaver via Getty Images)

12. Oklahoma

Attend Weekly: 39%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 20%
Attend Seldom to Never: 40%

(Anne Rippy via Getty Images)

11. Texas

Attend Weekly: 39%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 23%
Attend Seldom to Never: 36%

(Photo via Getty Images)

9. North Carolina

Attend Weekly: 40%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 24%
Attend Seldom to Never: 34%

(Mark Treese via Getty Images)

8. Kentucky

Attend Weekly: 41%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 20%
Attend Seldom to Never: 38%

(Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT via Getty Images)

7. Tennessee

Attend Weekly: 42%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 22%
Attend Seldom to Never: 34%

(John Elk via Getty Images)

6. South Carolina

Attend Weekly: 42%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 25%
Attend Seldom to Never: 30%

(Photo via Getty Images)

5. Arkansas

Attend Weekly: 45%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 21%
Attend Seldom to Never: 32%

(Rex Lisman via Getty Images)

4. Louisiana

Attend Weekly: 46%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 22%
Attend Seldom to Never: 30%

(Photo via Getty Images)

3. Alabama

Attend Weekly: 46%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 23%
Attend Seldom to Never: 29%

(Photo via Getty Images)

2. Mississippi

Attend Weekly: 47%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 26%
Attend Seldom to Never: 25%

(Photo via Getty Images)

1. Utah

Attend Weekly: 51%
Attend Nearly Weekly/Monthly: 13%
Attend Seldom to Never: 35%

As Gallup noted in its assessment of the numbers "Utah's No. 1 position on the list is a direct result of that state's 59% Mormon population, as Mormons have the highest religious service attendance of any major religious group in the U.S."

(Photo via Getty Images)

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