Nineteen-year-old Lucas Leonard and his younger brother, Christopher, 17, were punched, kicked and whipped with a 4-foot, folded electrical cord during the hours-long beating that began Oct. 11 and continued to the 12th, Christopher Leonard said Wednesday during a court hearing.
Lucas Leonard was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Christopher Leonard was hospitalized with serious injures.
Their parents, Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, of Clayville were charged with manslaughter, police said. Four fellow members, including the teens’ half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, 33, were charged with assault.
But for the first time since the incident, Christopher Leonard has opened up about the brutal beatings, testifying Wednesday during a court hearing for his half-sister.
“We asked him to do something that’s hard for anyone to do,” Oneida County District Attorney Scott D. McNamara told The Washington Post about Leonard’s testimony. “It’s especially hard for a 17-year-old to do.”
Indeed, many pieces remain unclear. Police said the counseling session appeared to stem from Lucas Leonard’s desire to leave the church. But church members contend that the problem was with the teen.
One church member told police Lucas Leonard had said he wanted church elders to die, according to the New York Times. The teens’ father claimed Lucas was beaten because he had molested a child, police said. But Chief Michael Inserra has said that investigators found no evidence of any sexual abuse and emphasized that the teens were “the victims in this horrible crime.
On Wednesday, Christopher Leonard did not say why he and his older brother were punished. He did not talk about the questions parishioners asked them. He only talked about what the teens went through.
Leonard walked into New Hartford’s courthouse clad in sneakers and a fleece pullover, according to NBC News’ WKTV. He looked down and his loose curls swung over his glasses.
He told the court that he and his brother stood in the church’s small sanctuary and answered only “some” questions.
A church member “came over and grabbed the front of my shirt and punched me in the stomach,” he said, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. For hours, church members beat the boys, police said, opening wounds on their torsos and genitals.
“I held out my hands to stop the whip,” he said, according to the Utica Observer-Dispatch.
At one point, Leonard said, he was taken to a larger sanctuary in the church, put in a corner and given earplugs and earmuffs to block out the sounds from his brother’s interrogation.
“I don’t know how long I sat there,” he said, according to the Post-Standard.
When Leonard was eventually brought back into the room where his brother was, he said, he saw his brother “moaning” and then collapse.
“I looked over and saw Luke on the ground,” he told the court, according to the Observer-Dispatch. “I rushed over and saw he wasn’t breathing. I was trying to give him CPR. Someone went up to find [the pastor] — she was pressing on his chest while I tried to fill up his lungs.”
On Oct. 12, family members drove Lucas Leonard to St. Luke’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Christopher Leonard said he was driven to the hospital by church members in a separate vehicle but the members later turned around and took him back to the church.
Leonard said a church member put down a mattress and pillow on the building’s second floor so Leonard could rest. Leonard said he slept a while and then woke up. He said it hurt to breathe and he kept vomiting.
“It hurt,” he said, according to the Associated Press, “everywhere.”
Over the years, the reclusive church, which inhabits an old schoolhouse, seemed very much a secret to the surrounding community. In the past, police told the Wall Street Journal, the church was so secluded that one time, when a fire broke out several years ago, members tried to turn away firefighters and opted to beat the blaze themselves.
An unnamed former church member, who said she used to babysit the teens, told CNN that over the years, the congregation became a “makeshift community.”
“We weren’t originally isolated from the community,” she said, adding that over time issues arose between the church and its community. “We put up the hedges.”
The former church member did, however, deny reports that the church is a cult — an accusation that came from several neighbors after news of the attack.
Police said Ferguson has been charged with assault along with three others: David Morey, 26; Linda Morey, 54; and Joseph Irwin, 26.
The judge at Ferguson’s hearing found that there is enough evidence to send the case to a grand jury for consideration, according to reports.
Ferguson’s attorney, Tom O’Brien III, told The Washington Post she is a “really sweet lady” who “cares very deeply about her kids.”
“We haven’t presented any evidence yet so it’s been one-sided,” he said. “It’s still too early to know how the case is going to turn out.”
Outside the courtroom, McNamara told reporters that new charges or indictments could be announced as the case moves forward.
“We are looking at everybody that was involved in this incident and we will present all the information that we have to the grand jury, along with the charges that were originally filed and any other charges we feel are appropriate and that will include depraved indifference murder,” McNamara said, according to the Utica Observer-Dispatch. “There are numerous other charges, one of those charges will be gang assault. There are a lot of other charges that were not initially filed, but we can ask a grand jury to consider.”
This story has been updated.