"What Faith Allows?" From Church to Crime

New York - Eyewitness News continues our investigative series digging deeper into the secrets of the Word of Life Christian Church.

It was a summer morning when Kristel Leonard heard a text message alert on her cell phone.

"I was quite shocked to see his text message, but really excited, too," Leonard said.

The message was from her brother Lucas, reaching out to her to ask if he could go to her church.

"I answered with the time and said 'why; do you want to come?'," Leonard said. "He said, 'yeah, I think I do'. When we got to the house in Clayville, Lucas and Christopher were outside having a discussion which did not look like a friendly discussion. It seemed like Christopher was not happy with Luke's decision."

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara believes this moment triggered a domino effect.

"He did something that (Pastor Tiffanie Irwin) was never going to forgive," McNamara said. "He went to a different church. He came back, but she was never going to forgive him for that and he was going to pay a serious price for that, and he did. He paid for it with his life."

When a Sunday evening service at the Word of Life Christian Church came to a close, Tiffanie Irwin asked the entire Leonard family to stay behind for what she referred to as a counseling session.

"When you look at the case as a whole and you look at why it happened, Tiffanie had the wild card and she held it," McNamara said. "If you play cards or anyone plays cards, you get that wild card and you hold it until it's the most advantageous for you to play it."

Lucas and Christopher Leonard were questioned for hours, accused by church members of sexual misconduct. When the answers stopped, the beatings began. Both boys were punched, kicked and whipped with an electrical cord.

"You have to be free. You cannot be free until you are honest. You cannot be honest until you tell the whole truth!"

-- Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, 2012

"You know, most of the cases we deal with, someone gets shot and they die," McNamara said. "That's the reality of most cases we deal with. You're talking a quick death or a death that might take five minutes. Lucas, it took 12 hours. He was bleeding to death, and it wasn't that he lost so much blood that he died. What happened was, he lost so much blood that his body poisoned itself and killed him.

"We knew that we needed an insider to get to Tiffanie because without an insider, Tiffanie (would have) walked," McNamara continued. "Debbie (Leonard) was the one that cracked. Debbie cracked the night they took Lucas to the hospital. She's the one that told three stories and then finally told the story that I believe is the closest to the truth."

McNamara tells us that investigators had a hard time interviewing those in custody because Tiffanie Irwin's involvement was being minimized.

"You're talking about an incident where everyone was sleep deprived, and what happens is like when you're drunk," he said. "Everything gets mixed up. Your brain is so tired, it's not putting things in order, so she couldn't put things in order, but she kept telling us all of these things that happened."


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