UTICA, N.Y. (AP) — The pastor of an insular New York church where a young man was beaten to death and his younger brother seriously injured was among seven people charged Tuesday with murder.
Pastor Tiffanie Irwin’s mother, Traci Irwin, also was charged in a 13-count indictment, as were Irwin’s two brothers, Joseph and Daniel Irwin, all of whom were leaders in the church. Also named were the victims’ father, Bruce Leonard; their half-sister Sarah Ferguson; and two other church members — Linda Morey and her son, David Morey.
Authorities have said “spiritual counseling” spiraled into an all-night gang attack on Lucas and Christopher Leonard inside the Word of Life Christian Church, a red-brick former elementary school in New Hartford that serves as both a church and a home for the Irwins.
The indictment charges all but Daniel Irwin with second-degree murder in the Oct. 12 death of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard. All eight face charges of manslaughter, kidnapping, assault and gang assault for the attacks on Lucas Leonard and his 17-year-old brother, who survived.
Joseph and Tiffanie Irwin pleaded not guilty Tuesday and their cases were adjourned until Dec. 7. The others were expected in court Wednesday.
Police initially charged six people, including both of the victims’ parents, but the pastor and her mother were not among them.
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said the victims’ mother, Deborah Leonard, would be charged separately. Her attorney, Devin Garramone, said she would be arraigned next week on charges of first-degree assault in the death of Lucas Leonard and second-degree assault for the attack on Christopher Leonard.
That would be a reduction from the initial manslaughter charge she pleaded not guilty to in October. There will be no bail, the attorney said.
McNamara said he could not comment further on the case because of a gag order issued by the judge.
Garramone has said the mother felt helpless to stop an “intervention” that she didn’t expect to become so harsh and he didn’t believe she caused the fatal injuries.
At a hearing last month, Christopher Leonard testified that Tiffanie Irwin asked the Leonard family and some others to stay behind for a meeting after an eight-hour Sunday service. Over what he estimated was six or more hours, the teen said he was pummeled with fists and whipped with a 4-foot, folded electrical cord on the back and elsewhere, suffering injuries to his torso and genitals.
Authorities said the meeting was called because Lucas Leonard had indicated he wanted to leave the secretive church. After the attack, the beating victims’ relatives wouldn’t tell officers where to find the injured Christopher Leonard, who ultimately was located on the church’s second floor, investigators said.
The church has existed for as many as 30 years in a rural part of New Hartford, a town of 22,000 people about 50 miles from Syracuse. The church once had 40 or more members but now counts closer to 20, New Hartford police Chief Michael Inserra said after the attack.
(Photo Source: AP)