Mar 3, 2016

Six charges dismissed against Word of Life Church beatings suspect

Patrick Lohmann 
March 1, 2016

NEW HARTFORD, NY -- Utica-area news outletsare reporting that Sarah Ferguson, a woman described as the "angriest" of the suspects accused in the church beating deaths of a young man, will not face some murder and other charges for her alleged role in the assaults.

Sarah Ferguson is the half-sister of Lucas, 19, and Christopher Leonard, 17, two young men who drew the church's ire in October for undisclosed "sins" and prompted a "counseling session" that turned deadly. Lucas died of his injuries and Christopher was severely injured.

In addition to Ferguson, the boys' parents, Deborah and Bruce Leonard, are facing murder, kidnapping and other charges. They join a number of other Word of Life Christian Church members who are accused of beating the young men for hours after an eight-hour church session.

In court on Tuesday, prosecutors requested that a murder and five kidnapping charges be dismissed against Ferguson, and the judge granted the request. Citing a gag order, District Attorney Scott McNamara did not explain why the charges were dismissed, WKTV reported.

However, Ferguson is still facing seven charges stemming from the beatings, according to the Utica Observer-Dispatch. One second-degree murder charge remains, WKTV reported.

Deborah Leonard struck a plea deal for her alleged role in the beatings in exchange for cooperating against other church members. She testified that Sarah Ferguson was the "angriest" of those who beat the young men, and she was angry over "things they had said".

The question of what prompted the counseling session has not yet been answered, though allegations of witchcraft, threats to leave the church and other possible reasons have surfaced. Police have said that there is no evidence of molestation against the church's youngest members.

Ferguson was the mother of several children removed from the church and placed in protective custody. Her mother is Deborah Leonard but has a different father from the boys who were beaten.

The District Attorney also said in court that his office is ready to go to trial against the church members.

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