Police held a news conference Wednesday to discuss their 'complex and ongoing' investigation into the death of 19-year old Lucas Leonard, who was allegedly severely beaten inside the Word of Life Christian Church in Chadwicks this week.

New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra says Lucas Leonard and his brother, 17-year old Christopher, were the subject of a counseling session by church members, normally designed to discuss ones spiritual state. This particular session on Sunday night, Inserra said, turned physical and continued for several hours. ''Both brothers were continually subjected to physical punishment for several hours in hopes the brother would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness,'' Inserra said. At some point late Monday morning, church members realized Lucas was no longer breathing, he said.

When asked if the investigation indicated such 'sessions' were normally physical in nature, Inserra said, 'no', but was unable to say why this particular one did. He stated that rumors indicating the beating was a 'punishment' for some type of sexual altercation involving Lucas are unfounded.

Lucas Leonard was brought to a local hospital by family at around 12:30 Monday and later died there. Christopher is in serious condition at the hospital.

Inserra says an autopsy shows blunt force trauma and the duration of the beating were contributing factors in Lucas Leonard's death, but the exact cause of death is pending.  Inserra said the initial report to police indicated Lucas Leonard suffered for a gunshot wound, however, he says the teen was not shot.

Bruce and Deborah Leonard, the parents of the two teens, are charged with manslaughter.  Four others are charged with assault.

Inserra says following the completion of the investigation, they'll meet with the Oneida County District Attorney's Office to discuss additional arrests.

What else we learned on Wednesday:

  • the 'several' children who were removed the church this week ranged between 2 and 15 years of age
  • It appears there were 'no more than 10' people living inside the church building in Chadwicks, Inserra said. The building is three stories tall with numerous rooms.
  • Lucas Leonard's injuries included multiple contusions to his torso and extremities
  • When initially questioned by police, the suspects were 'reluctant' to share information. When pressed further on what police have obtained form the six arrested, Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said he could not discuss evidence
  • When asked if the church has been 'shutdown' in light of the alleged incidents, Inserrra said 'no'
  • DA McNamara explained the Bruce and Deborah Leonard faced manslaughter charges rather than murder, saying a murder charge would require authorities to prove the intended to kill Lucas
  • Inserra said Sarah Ferguson, one of the four charged with assault, is also the sister of Lucas and Christopher


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