Following the beating of two teenage brothers by their parents, sister and other members of the “Word of Life” Church in upstate New York, the suspects have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and assault.
The parents, Deborah and Bruce Leonard, have been jailed on charges of first-degree manslaughter. Of the two boys, Lucas Leonard, 19, is dead while his brother, Christopher Leonard, 17, remains in critical condition in a New York hospital. Devin Garramore, an attorney representing Deborah, claims that the idea for the beating wasn’t her idea in the first place. “I think that this was something she didn’t foresee going this far,” Garramore said. “I think that she lost control of it and because she is a meek, timid type personality she was unable to stop it.”
Four more people have been accused of attacking Christopher after church Sunday. The assault, according to District Attorney Scott McNamara, went on for about 10 hours. “What we understand was that there was an issue about whether the older brother wanted to stay in the church,” McNamara told CBS News. “There was a confrontation with the two parents and it turned physical.”
The church is run by Tiffanie Irwin, whose late father founded the church. Established in 1984, five members and 35 others, including children, constitute the membership of the church, according to CNN. These families home school their children in the public school compound serving as the church. While some of the children have been taken by child protective services, McNamara says he does not think that the assault was religious. “It’s our allegation that this was not a religious ritual or of that nature,” he said. “For now, we are looking at it as a gang assault.”
Christopher is now conscious and expected to make full recovery.
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