HORRIFIC: Parents accused of beating teenage son to death in church

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(New Hartford, N.Y., Police Department)Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, have been arrested in the fatal beating of their teenage son.

NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. (Christian Examiner) – Bruce and Deborah Leonard brought their sons Lucas, 19, and Christopher, 17, to the Word of Life Church Sunday night for a "counseling session" in which Lucas was beaten to death and Christopher remains in serious condition.

The parents have been arrested along with four others, including the teenage boys' older sister, for punching and kicking the boys in their abdomens, genitals, backs and thighs, according to a police statement to CBS.

"Both brothers were continually subject to physical punishment over the course of several hours in the hopes that each would confess the prior sins and ask for forgiveness," said New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra.

It is unknown for what "sins" the boys were "counseled."

The beating occurred on Sunday night, and Lucas was taken to the hospital on Monday afternoon, where he was pronounced dead.

At the arraignment on Tuesday, all six church members pled not guilty to fatally beating Lucas.

IS THE CHURCH A CULT?

Police entering the church building to investigate the crime scene found Christopher in critical condition, as well as several other children who have been turned over to child services, according to the Washington Post.

The police investigation into the church is ongoing, and the police have announced that they may make more arrests.

On whether the church was a cult, Inserra commented, "I've heard that term on the street and I've even read it in the news." But he did not affirm the claim.

Deborah Leonard's attorney Devin Garramone said Thursday he had no idea what supposed sins led to the beating. He maintained Deborah "had no idea how far it [the encounter] would be taken" and was too meek to stop the beating of her sons in a church where she had worshipped for 30 years.

Bruce Leonard's attorney Don Gerace said Bruce will not be able to meet the $100,000 bail. "We expect to learn more about the evidence and charges [at the upcoming Friday hearing]," he said.

COMMUNITY MEMBERS SHOCKED

Tara Litz has lived next door Word of Life Church for ten years. "We always joked around and said they were a cult, which now we're believing that they probably were," Litz told CBS.

The Word of Life Church is a three-story red brick building that is also used as a school. One of the church members arrested in the Leonard brothers' beating, Joseph Irwin, lives in the church.

Litz said the church members' "odd behavior" made her think the church was a cult. "It's a gated community. You line up in a row, they all go in together, the gates close."

Julie Howard, who also lives near the church, said the church is known to be strange, according to the Washington Post.

"There's always been weird things going on," Howard said. "The cult thing over here has been going on for a while, I guess around 30 years. ... It's like one big happy family of about 30 of them."

Christopher's exact condition is unknown.