Mother in Word of Life Church beating released from state prison


NEW HARTFORD — The mother of the teenager that was killed at the Word of Life Church in 2015 was released from state prison on Thursday.

Deborah Leonard, age 63, was released after serving three years of her five year sentence on charges of first and second-degree assault, according to the state Department of Corrections. She was one of nine people convicted.

Authorities said on Oct. 11, 2015, brothers Lucas Leonard, 19, and Christopher Leonard, 17, were whipped by their half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, and their parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, at the secluded New Hartford church during a “counseling session.” 

After the whipping, witnesses testified in court that the brothers were kept at the church without medical assistance for nearly 12 hours, until Lucas succumbed to his injuries and died. Christopher was hospitalized for a week.

A total of nine church members were charged in connection to the beating.

The brothers’ half-sister, Ferguson, was the only defendant to take her case to trial. Ferguson was convicted of manslaughter, gang assault and assault, and is currently serving a sentence of 25 years in prison. She is eligible for parole in 2037.

The brothers’ father, Bruce Leonard, is serving a 10-year sentence for charges of first and second-degree assault.

The church’s spiritual leader, Traci Irwin,and her son Daniel Irwin were both sentenced to two years in county jail for unlawful imprisonment. They were both released in March 2017.

Two of Traci Irwin’s other children were also convicted. Tiffanie Irwin is serving a 12-year sentence on charges of manslaughter and assault. Joseph Irwin is currently serving an eight-year sentence on charges of gang assault and assault.

Linda Morey and her son David were both sentenced to five years in prison on charges of assault.


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