The Latest: Church beating victim's condition is improving

AP News
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Posted: Oct 15, 2015 8:38 PM
The Latest: Church beating victim's condition is improving

NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. (AP) — The latest on the fatal beating of a 19-year-old inside a church (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

Hospital officials say the condition of a 17-year-old who allegedly was seriously beaten by relatives and fellow members of a central New York church is improving.

That's according to Lt. Timothy O'Neill of the New Hartford Police Department, who says Christopher Leonard remains in the intensive care unit.

Christopher's 19-year-old brother, Lucas, died from the pummeling that authorities say was an effort to get them to confess their sins.

Their parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, are charged with manslaughter in Lucas' death. Four other adults, including the victims' sister, are charged with assault in the younger brother's beating.

All the suspects pleaded not guilty.

5:30 p.m.

A lawyer for a father charged with manslaughter in the beating of his teenage son at a central New York church says the incident arose from a family meeting, not a church function.

Attorney Donald Gerace (JUHR'-ayse) said Thursday that his client, Bruce Leonard, and wife Deborah Leonard "had no intent to cause serious injury to their son." Gerace says the parents brought 19-year-old Lucas Leonard to a hospital.

The parents have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Four other people have pleaded not guilty to assault in the beatings, which also left 17-year-old Christopher Leonard seriously injured.

Police have said the beatings at Word of Life church happened during a spiritual counseling session aimed at getting the teens to confess sins. Deborah Leonard's lawyer has called it an intervention.

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3:45 p.m.

The insular church where authorities say relatives and congregants beat two teenage brothers, one fatally, was a mystery even to the pastor at another church next door in central New York.

The Rev. Abraham Esper leads a Catholic church adjacent to the Word of Life church. That's where the beatings happened Sunday in New Hartford.

Esper said Thursday he'd had little contact with Word of Life, except in letters he wrote complaining about barking dogs there. The church also housed some of its members.

He found it unusually unwelcoming for a church, with no worship times posted and no bell or even knob on its closed front door.

But resident Sarah Gendron says she found Word of Life "cool" and "very family-oriented" when she attended a service eight years ago.

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1:40 p.m.

Police say members of a small New York church where a teenager was beaten to death and his brother was brutally injured had little previous contact with authorities.

New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra says the Word of Life church so firmly kept to themselves that they refused to let firefighters into their building after putting out a small blaze themselves a few years ago. The church, in a former school building, also serves as home to some members.

Inserra says the roughly 30-year-old church had perhaps 40 or more members at its peak but now counts closer to 20.

He says church members occasionally complained about harassment by local kids over the congregation's 30 years, but overall the church was a quiet presence.

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10:45 a.m.

An attorney for a woman charged with manslaughter in a deadly assault on her teenage son at a New York church says he believes other people caused the fatal injuries and she didn't have the emotional strength to intervene.

Lawyer Devin Garramone said Thursday the confrontation "spun out of control" and Deborah Leonard "didn't have the temerity" to stand up to others in a church where she'd worshipped for 30 years.

Nineteen-year-old Lucas Leonard died and his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, was seriously injured after being beaten Sunday at the Word of Life church in New Hartford. The police chief has said a spiritual "counseling session" turned violent.

The boys' parents are charged with manslaughter. Four other people, including the boys' 33-year-old sister, face assault charges. All have pleaded not guilty.