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Parents will face grand jury in the death of teenage son, 4 others charged with assault

Tina Russell
Utica Observer-Dispatch
Bruce and Deborah Leonard at a priliminary hearing on Friday in New Hartford.

A judge ruled that the two parents who were charged with first-degree manslaughter in New Hartford for the death of their son will now face a grand jury. Four others have also been charged in the beatings during a so-called counseling session which a witness said lasted about 14 hours.

At a preliminary hearing on Friday at the New Hartford Town Court, the Oneida County district attorney’s office tried to piece together what happened on the night of October 11.  Two teenagers, Lucas and Christopher Leonard, were allegedly beaten by members of the Word of Life Christian Church. Lucas died the next morning and Christopher is recovering from his injuries in a hospital and is cooperating with police. 

Bruce and Deborah Leonard, the brothers’ parents, were charged with first-degree manslaughter and four others were charged with assault including the teenagers' half-sister.

Scott McNamara, the Oneida County district attorney says he anticipates more charges could be brought against the six church members and others when they go to a grand jury. The church is located in a former schoolhouse and was known for being secretive.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara after Friday's preliminary hearing.

“This church was never on anybody’s radar," McNamara said. "This is not a church that everyone was saying, ‘hey, what’s going on there?’ Maybe the neighbors can say that. This is not something we knew was going on.”

Church member Daniel Irwin testified that what started as a counseling session turned violent when he saw Bruce strike Lucas on the back. Law enforcement testified that Deborah Leonard told them she, Bruce and others took turns beating the brothers with an electrical extension cord and holding them down.

The district attorney’s office would not comment on a motive and says they have 45 days to present their case to a grand jury. A preliminary hearing has be scheduled for Friday for the four who were charged with assault.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.