Parents charged with fatally beating son in New York church

Bruce Leonard
In this undated photo provided by the New Hartford Police Department in New Hartford, N.Y., Bruce Leonard is shown. Leonard and his wife, Deborah Leonard of Clayville, N.Y., have been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the beating death of their 19-year-old son, Lucas. (New Hartford Police Department via AP)

NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. (AP) — A central New York couple has been charged with fatally beating their 19-year-old son inside a church and four fellow church members have been charged with assault in an attack that also left the young man’s brother severely injured, police said Tuesday.

Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, of Clayville, were charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their son Lucas, said Lt. Timothy O’Neill of the New Hartford Police Department. O’Neill said Lucas Leonard died Monday after he was beaten at Word of Life Church in New Hartford, which is 80 miles northwest of Albany.

His 17-year-old brother is hospitalized in serious condition with injuries from an assault.

The six church members were arraigned Tuesday and sent to Oneida County Jail. At the arraignment, it was revealed that both teens suffered injuries to their abdomens, genitals, backs and thighs. Bail for the Leonards was set at $100,000 each and for the four other defendants at $50,000 each. All pleaded not guilty.

Police said more arrests are expected as the investigation continues. Details about the attack or what may have led up to it have not been disclosed.

The investigation began at about 12:30 p.m. Monday when family members brought Lucas Leonard to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Investigators determined that the Word of Life Church was the scene of the crime, and the building was surrounded by special operations teams from state and local police agencies.

Police eventually entered the church, a three-story brick building on a residential street that originally housed a school. Several church members were interviewed, and several children were turned over to child welfare officials.

In addition to the Leonards, police arrested David Morey, 26, of Utica; Linda Morey, 54, of Utica; Sarah Ferguson, 33, who lives at the same address as the Leonards; and Joseph Irwin, 26, who lives in the church building.

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara declined to comment on a motive or other details of the case. He said a preliminary hearing for all six defendants is scheduled for Friday.

Bruce Leonard’s lawyer, Don Gerace, said his client will not be able to make the $100,000 bail. He said it was too early to comment on details of the case.

“We expect to learn more about the evidence and charges at that time,” Gerace said of the upcoming hearing.

Deborah Leonard’s lawyer, Devin Garramone, declined to comment. Contact information for the other defendants’ attorneys wasn’t immediately available.

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