The Latest: DA praises strength of victim in church beating

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2015 3:11 PM
The Latest: DA praises strength of victim in church beating

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

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3 p.m.

A prosecutor says a lot was asked of the teenager who took the witness stand against his half-sister in a deadly central New York church beating case.

Seventeen-year-old Christopher Leonard testified Wednesday about the encounter last week at the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford. He said his sister, Sarah Ferguson, joined his parents and three other congregants in punching and whipping him with an electrical cord.

His 19-year-old brother Lucas Leonard died after the attack, which Christopher said started because they "didn't want to answer" questions during a meeting. He was not asked the nature of the questions.

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara says he "can't imagine the stress" the teen was under when he took the stand.

Ferguson and the parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, have pleaded not guilty along with three others.

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2:40 p.m.

A judge has ruled that prosecutors presented enough evidence to warrant grand jury action against the half-sister of two brothers beaten, one fatally, at a central New York church.

New Hartford Town Justice William Virkler ruled after hearing testimony Wednesday from 17-year-old Christopher Leonard about the attack this month that left him injured and his 19-year-old brother Lucas dead.

Their half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, is charged with assault and will continue to be held on $50,000 bail.

The Leonards' parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, face the most serious charge so far, manslaughter. Three other congregants of the Word of Life Church are also charged with assault. All have pleaded not guilty.

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara says he will ask a grand jury to consider numerous charges in the case. He hasn't ruled out charges against others.

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2 p.m.

A teenager says a beating in an upstate New York church that seriously injured him and killed his brother began because they "didn't want to answer" questions during a meeting.

Seventeen-year-old Christopher Leonard testified at a court hearing Wednesday about the encounter last week at the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford.

Christopher said his parents, his sister and three other congregants punched him and whipped him with an electrical cord. He said he was eventually taken to another room and left sitting in a corner with earplugs and earmuffs, so he couldn't hear conversation around him.

He says he later was brought back into the church sanctuary and saw his 19-year-old brother, Lucas, lying on the ground and not breathing.

All six suspects have pleaded not guilty.

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1:30 p.m.

A teenager who authorities say was severely beaten by relatives in an upstate New York church has steadfastly avoided looking at his sister as he walked into court to testify against her.

Seventeen-year-old Christopher Leonard came to court in New Hartford for a hearing Wednesday in the assault case against Sarah Ferguson.

She didn't look up from the defense table as her brother arrived. Earlier, officials rearranged the small courtroom's defense and prosecution tables so Leonard would be a bit farther away from his sister while he was on the witness stand.

Last week's beating took place at the small, secretive Word of Life Christian Church. Christopher was hospitalized for days, and his 19-year-old brother, Lucas, died.

Ferguson, the teens' parents and three other defendants have pleaded not guilty.

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1:10 p.m.

The uncle of two teenage brothers who were brutally beaten in an upstate New York church says its leaders kept them estranged from relatives who weren't members.

Jimmy Stewart went to a New Hartford court Wednesday for a hearing in the case. His 17-year-old nephew, Christopher Leonard, survived the attack this month, but 19-year-old Lucas Leonard died.

Christopher Leonard is expected to testify against one of the suspects, his sister, Sarah Ferguson.

She has pleaded not guilty. So have five other defendants, including the victims' parents.

Stewart says he and his wife attended Word of Life Christian Church in the 1990s but never joined because they felt "something wasn't right."

He says the church's pastors then forbade the Leonard children from associating with his family because they weren't church members.