2 defendants in New York church beating case take plea deals
Posted October 7
UTICA, N.Y. — Two leaders of a secretive New York church pleaded guilty Friday to their involvement in a violent all-night "counseling session" that left one young man dead and another severely injured.
The church's matriarch, Traci Irwin, and her son Daniel Irwin, a deacon, accepted plea deals in Oneida County Court on Friday in which each admitted to two counts of unlawful imprisonment in exchange for two-year prison terms.
The two were among nine people charged following the beating death of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard at Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford last October.
Leonard's then-17-year-old brother Christopher survived the beating that authorities said was delivered by the victims' parents, step-sister and other church members and leaders after the teens discussed leaving the congregation.
In court Friday, District Attorney Scott McNamara said neither Traci Irwin nor Daniel Irwin physically harmed the brothers. Traci Irwin was not in the room for the beatings but was aware of the session and sought updates, the prosecutor said. Daniel Irwin acted as a guard, the prosecutor said.
Murder, kidnapping and assault charges are pending against Daniel Irwin's sister, Tiffanie Irwin, who was the church's pastor, and their brother, Joseph Irwin, as well as mother-and-son church members Linda and David Morey.
The victims' parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, have pleaded guilty to assault and their half-sister Sarah Ferguson was convicted of manslaughter.
Christopher Leonard testified at an earlier hearing that Tiffanie Irwin asked the Leonard family and some others to stay behind for a meeting after an eight-hour Sunday service last October. The teen said he and his brother were pummeled for hours in the torso and genitals with fists, feet and an electrical cord.
Traci Irwin is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 5. Daniel Irwin's sentencing was set for Dec. 9.