Word of Life Teen Beaten to Death by Church Leaders Had Been Accused of Practicing Witchcraft

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According to a deacon at the church where Lucas Leonard, 19, was beaten to death in a "counseling session" last week, the incident was brought on by the dead teen’s practice of witchcraft.

Daniel Irwin, 24, who wasn’t a participant in the attack, testified in a pretrial hearing on Wednesday that this was the nature of the "sin" that prompted the confrontation. Irwin testified that Lucas Leonard confessed to practicing voodoo in response to an accusation by Word of Life’s pastor Tiffany Irwin (who is also Daniel’s sister). Leonard even contemplated making a voodoo doll of the pastor, Irwin said on the stand, as he wanted church elders to "die."

Police refuted the witchcraft motivation, as well as previous claims that the boys were molesting children in the church. A desire to escape the New Hartford church was what led to his being set upon by church elders and his family members, police maintain. 

Irwin wasn’t present for the beating, instead waiting outside the room for the duration. Just after dawn he caught a quick glimpse of Leonard, who was close to death. “I remember that he was rolling himself back and forth on the floor and making a sustained monotone moan,” Irwin said. Leonard would be dead shortly after, around mid-morning. Witnessing only a few moments of the beating, he described what he saw as “very hard and violent.”

Lucas Leonard’s younger brother Christopher, 17, was also assaulted, but he survived. He testified, in a hushed tone, describing the brutal multi-hour attack. With a four-foot electrical cord folded over itself, his father, mother, sister, and fellow church members took their turns on the boys. Neither attempted to defend themselves, he said. At one point, while Lucas was being interrogated by church members, Christopher was made to leave the room and wear earmuffs. After reentering the room, he witnessed his brother collapsing.

Christopher’s attempts to perform CPR on his brother failed to resuscitate him.