The murder trial of Sarah Ferguson began in Utica, New York, last week. Ferguson is accused of participating in a group counseling session at the Word of Life Church that left her 19-year-old half-brother Lucas Leonard dead and her other half-brother, Christopher, mutilated. Prosecutors said the beatings began when Tiffanie Irwin, the church pastor, allegedly accused the boys of using witchcraft, making a voodoo doll of the pastor, and sexually abusing their siblings and nieces.
A group of parishioners beat the boys with their fists before their father, Bruce Leonard, began whipping them with a cord—at least 30 times across the back and chest, 17-year-old Christopher testified on Monday. “I was crying and screaming in pain,” he said. Leonard also testified that Ferguson, his half-sister, repeatedly asked him about abusing her children as she beat him with a cord.
According to Syracuse Media reporter Liz Doran, Leonard testified that he did not “put his penis in his nieces or nephews,” despite admitting to having done so while being beaten. He said that he did, however, “touch the kids inappropriately.” From Syracuse.com:
Sarah Ferguson beat him more than the others, whipping him more than 50 times, hitting his genitals, Christopher Leonard said. He testified he begged her to stop.
The whipping felts like it lasted for hours, he testified. He said he could stand after the beating but just barely.
During the beatings, Lucas Leonard also admitted that he “inappropriately touched” Sarah Ferguson’s children, Christopher Leonard testified.
The boys’ parents have accepted plea offers. Nine other people affiliated with the church are charged in the beatings.