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Mother pleads guilty to church beating that killed son

03 December 2015, 09:36

Utica — The mother of two New York state teenagers beaten during a church counseling session pleaded guilty to assault Wednesday in the attack that killed one son and injured the other.

As part of a plea agreement Wednesday, Deborah Leonard admitted taking part in all-night group beatings that killed 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and injured 17-year-old Christopher Leonard after Lucas indicated he wanted to leave the church.

She faces up to five years in prison.

Deborah Leonard and her husband, Bruce Leonard, initially were charged with manslaughter following the October session inside the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford.

Also Read: 3 men arrested in killing of Venezuela opposition leader

An Oneida County grand jury has since upgraded the charges against Bruce Leonard and several other church members to murder and added kidnapping, assault and gang assault charges. All have pleaded not guilty.

Deborah Leonard's plea agreement could require her to testify against her husband, daughter and six other church members and leaders.

In court, she described striking both her sons in the chest with an extension cord during a session led by pastor Tiffanie Irwin, who she said was viewed as a prophet. Lucas Leonard had indicated he wanted to leave the church, she said.

"I hit them with my open hand and punched them," Deborah Leonard testified, at times crying.

Lucas Leonard was so badly injured that hospital staff thought he'd been shot. Both teens were beaten in the torso and genitals.

- AP

Tags us murder

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