Six church members, including a married couple, are in custody, accused of a brutal assault on two of the couple’s children that left one dead and another severely injured, according to law enforcement officials.
New Hartford, N.Y., police say Bruce Leonard and his wife Deborah, along with four fellow churchgoers, fatally beat Lucas Leonard, 19, inside the Word of Life Church.
NPR’s Joel Rose tells our Newscast Unit that police say the beatings appear to have taken place during a meeting where the brothers were to ask forgiveness for their sins.
“Police say the brutal beatings occurred inside the Word of Life Church in New Hartford, New York. Police Chief Michael Inserra says they were part of what church members describe as a “counseling session” that turned physical.
“Inserra says it’s not clear what those supposed sins might have been. Nineteen-year-old Lucas Leonard died of his injuries. His seventeen-year-old brother Christopher is hospitalized in serious condition. Their parents are charged with manslaughter. Authorities say more charges and arrests are possible.”
Inserra said the brothers were subjected to the punishment “over several hours.” Lucas was pronounced dead a local hospital on Monday.
The Utica Observer-Dispatch reports, both victims suffered injuries to backs, thighs, stomachs and genitals.
“Police offered no motive for why the boys’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard of Clayville, would be involved in reportedly inflicting such injuries on their own children, however. The couple pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned on felony first-degree manslaughter charges Tuesday afternoon in New Hartford Town Court.
“The incident also resulted in several children found at the church being taken into custody by Oneida County Child Protective Services. Oneida County Assistant District Attorney Mike Nolan said Deborah and Bruce Leonard have been charged with ‘very serious felonies of multiple victims.’
“Bail for the Leonards was set at $100,000 each; bail for the other four defendants was set at $50,000.”
The police investigation of the incident began on Monday. Law enforcement officials determined the Word of Life Church was the scene of the crime, according to the Associated Press. The wire service also reports Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said a preliminary hearing for all of the defendants is set for Friday.