Oct 22, 2016

Remaining four defendants in Word of Life case plead guilty

October 21, 2016
Rome Sentinel

The four final defendants in the Word of Life Church homicide pleaded guilty this morning to their roles in the murder of Lucas Leonard and the attack on his brother, Christopher Leonard.

There will be no further criminal trials in the Word of Life case.

• Pastor Tiffanie Irwin pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault. She accepted a plea offer of 12 years in state prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Due to the nature of her Alford Plea, Irwin did not have to admit to her actions at the Word of Life church.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Coluzza said today that if Irwin’s case had gone to trial, prosecutors would have argued that she “cultivated” an emotional control over the members of the church as a spiritual leader.

Coluzza said Pastor Irwin used humiliation, emotional and physical punishment “to inspire shame and obedience in the minds of the parishioners.”

Coluzza said that Pastor Irwin worked to establish herself as the only one who could decide the definition of sin and the rules of damnation in the Word of Life church.

He said this level of control influenced the church members in the attack on the Leonard brothers.

• Joseph Irwin pleaded guilty to first-degree gang assault and second-degree assault.

He accepted an offer of eight years in state prison.

• David Morey pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault.

He accepted an offer of five years in state prison.

• Linda Morey pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault. She accepted an offer of five years in state prison.

The Irwins and the Moreys were among nine people charged in the beating death of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard at the secluded Word of Life Church in New Hartford on Oct. 11, 2015.

According to previous testimony, the Leonard brothers were the focus of a counseling session at the church regarding
accusations that they had
sexually abused several other children in the church.

Authorities said Pastor Tiffanie Irwin led the counseling session, which eventually turned physical when Linda Morey took an electrical cord out of the

Authorities said the brothers’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, and their half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, whipped them both repeatedly.

Prosecutors said Joseph Irwin and David Morey kept the brothers in the room during the whippings. Prosecutors said Joseph Irwin struck one of the brothers during the counseling session.

Prosecutors said the Leonard brothers were then held at the church for several hours, despite their severe wounds.

Lucas Leonard later died from his injuries and Christopher was hospitalized for a week.

Of the other defendants, Bruce and Deborah Leonard both pleaded guilty to assault, and Traci and Daniel Irwin pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment. They have not yet been sentenced.

Sarah Ferguson was the only defendant to take her case to trial, and she was found guilty of manslaughter.

Ferguson was sentenced to 25 years in prison.


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