NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. — A 17-year-old boy who was brutally beaten inside a church alongside his older brother was released from the hospital and planned to testify at a hearing against at least one of his attackers, authorities said Monday.
Christopher Leonard and his 19-year-old brother, Lucas, were pummeled with fists and kicked Oct. 11 by their parents, a sister and other members of their small and secretive church to get them to confess their sins and seek forgiveness, authorities allege.
Lucas Leonard died in the beating, but Christopher was discharged from the hospital over the weekend and is now under the supervision of Oneida County Child Protective Services, New Hartford police said.
He is expected to testify against his 33-year-old sister, Sarah Ferguson, at a preliminary hearing scheduled for Wednesday. She is charged with assault and remains in custody.
The victims’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, face the most serious charge, manslaughter, and were being held on $100,000 bail.
Three other church members are also charged with assault. They are Joseph Irwin, 26, David Morey, 26, and Morey’s 54-year-old mother, Linda Morey.
All six have pleaded not guilty.
An attorney for the victims’ mother has said she was too timid to stop the beating. A lawyer for the father has said the incident stemmed from a family meeting that had nothing to do with the church.
During an Oct. 16 hearing in New Hartford Town Court, Oneida County Assistant District Attorney Dawn Lupi said Christopher Leonard’s testimony would be integral against those charged with assaulting him and asked that scheduled court hearings be postponed until his release from the hospital.
Police said Irwin will be in court Wednesday, but the DA believes the judge will probably give him a new date. Both Irwin and the Moreys are free on bail.
The arrests in New Hartford, a town of 22,000 people, have thrown a spotlight on the regimented and insular Word of Life Christian Church that operated from a red-brick former school that also served as a communal home for several members.
The Leonards’ home in the nearby town of Clayville, meanwhile, was described as foul-smelling and filled with garbage by an animal advocate who rescued four seemingly neglected dogs and other animals several days after the couple’s arrest.
Kimberly Strong, founder of Lainey’s Army, an animal advocacy group based in central New York, said the home had four neglected dogs, three birds and several cats in and around their house. All the animals are now in foster care, she said.