Sep 1, 2016

Sarah Ferguson, first Word of Life defendant, sentenced for manslaughter


By Joleen Ferris Sep. 1, 2016


UTICA - The first Word of Life defendant to be sentenced proclaimed her love, through tears, for the brother she whipped to death and the other, whom she assaulted.   
"I do truly love my brothers. I did not intent or purposefully inflict, knowingly, serious physical damage. I was not aware. I just, I snapped. My brain just could not..."  sobbed Sarah Ferguson Thursday morning in Oneida County Court.

Ferguson is one of several defendants charged in the beating death of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and the assault of 17-year-old Christopher Leonard, at the Word of Life Church in Chadwicks in October. Ferguson said that she snapped upon learning that her brothers, who also were members of the church, had sexually abused her children. Ferguson's defense attorney at her sentencing suggested that the accuracy of the boys' alleged admissions wasn't necessarily relevant.

"Whether the things that were said by Lucas and Christopher at the so called counseling session were true or not, Sarah was told in excruciating detail about sexual abuse that had been perpetrated against those children as recenlty as that very morning," said defense attorney Rebecca Wittman.

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said Ferguson basically flogged her two brothers.

"Your honor, I've been a prosecutor for 24 years and this is probably the most malicious, brutal and callous beating I've ever seen," said McNamara, adding that the beating was not the exception, but rather the rule, when it comes to how Ferguson punished even her own children, citing background of the case that did not come out in open court.

"Her own children said that's how she'd punish them. She'd pull their pants down and whip them with a paint stirring stick."

The Honorable Michael L. Dwyer, who presided over Ferguson's bench trial, used caution in his comments, citing the fact that several of Ferguson's co-defendants still must stand trial in the case. 

"It just is inconceivable to me that during this entire incident, that lasted as long as it did, there was no one that was a voice of reason. Nobody stood up and tried to stop this," said Dwyer.

Dwyer, the same judge who found Ferguson guilty of manslaughter, gang assault and assault with respect to Lucas and Christopher Leonard, sentenced their half-sister to a total of 25 years in prison. Dwyer had acquitted Ferguson on a murder trial she had faced.

Victims Lucas and Christopher Leonard's parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, who are co-defendants in this case, have pleaded guilty. They await sentencing, contingent upon their agreement to testify against the others.

Church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, her mother, Traci Irwin, brothers Daniel and Joseph Irwin, along with David and Linda Morey - all church members - still await trial.  The tentative trial date for the remaining defendants is October 12.



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