The sister of Word of Life Church beating defendant Sarah Ferguson, took the witness stand against her mother Tuesday morning in Oneida County Court. Grace is now 16 years old and is living with in a foster home.
Oneida County Judge Michael Dwyer has asked that the image of the witness not be shown by the media.
Early questioning centered on living arrangements at the Leonard house in Clayville. The witness said she moved to the attic to live with her sister because her brother Lucas had watched her shower a year before the October 2015 beatings. Lucas died from the injuries he sustained in the beat administered in the sanctuary of the church on Oneida street in Chadwicks.
The witness said that Lucas had told her and church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin that he had watched her in the shower and the pastor decided to move the girl up to the attic. She did not tell her parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard why she was moving to different living quarters. The witness testified she wanted to be safe from Lucas and Christopher Leonard.
The witness explained that extra measures were taken to protect the attic area where she was staying. Those measures included locks and furniture blocking doors. The teenager testified that her interaction with her brothers was minimal and that Sarah’s children were not allowed out of the attic apartment to be with Lucas and Christopher.
The witness told the court that she had been touched in her private area, and did not want to be touched, when she was 4 or 5 years old. It was Lucas who had touched her. Lucas Leonard would have been about 10 years old at the time. She also testifies that Christopher had also touched her.
The young girl also testified that the touching happened on more than one occasion. She says that it was touching only and it went on until the girl was 13. The witness said she told Pastor Tiffanie Irwin and later told her sister. She says she never told her parents. After telling the pastor, the touching stopped but a year later the shower incident took place.
The witness was asked about the Word of Life Church. She said she had been a member her whole life and that there were about 20 to 25 members. She said that “counseling sessions” were like private therapy sessions called by Pastor Tiffanie Irwin. It was at a counseling session in October 2015 that Lucas and Christopher Leonard were severely beaten. Lucas died of his injuries.
The witness testified that Pastor Tiffanie was asking questions about the abuse during the session and she was talking about what happened. The teenage Ferguson said that the boys were not really answering questions. She told them to tell the truth. When they wouldn’t give full answers, she punched Christopher in the back.
That was the first punch to hit the boys and the witness’s only physical contact with the brothers during the counseling session.
She testified that Joe Irwin gave Christopher three seconds to answer a question and when he didn’t, Joe Irwin punched Christopher. No one stopped the progression of physical violence at that time.
She said that her mother, Deborah Leonard, began to punch Lucas and Chris. Joe Irwin had kicked Lucas in the stomach. As Deborah confronted the boys, they began to make admissions. The boys were asked how they got to the younger children. Access, according to the witness, was very unlikely.
She said that the answers given by the brothers were outrageous and weren’t possible. She says that the Leonard brothers admitted to the abuse, but wouldn’t explain how they got to them.
She told the judge that she first saw the power cord used as a whip in the hands of Linda Morey. Morey gave the cord to Deborah Leonard. Deborah then began to whip her sons. The witness said that the boys asked for the whipping to stop and then Bruce Leonard took the cord and began to use it on his sons. Bruce Leonard said to his sons, according to testimony, “You lied to my face, pretending.” as he beat them with the power cord.
Pastor Tiffanie brought up the subject of witchcraft, especially as it pertained to Lucas. The witness testified that Lucas had said that he felt he could control people with his mind.
The witness testified that Sarah Ferguson took the power cord from Bruce and was very upset. Sarah was crying. Sarah began to whip the boys over all parts of their bodies, except the head.
She testified that the power cord was only used in the small sanctuary and only by the Leonard family members. She said that the boys pleaded for the beatings to stop, but it went on. She said that she saw that Lucas was bleeding. If they fell down, Sarah, David Morey and Pastor Irwin would help them back up.
The younger Ferguson said that she and her sister had noticed that things had been moved in the attic, but no proof the boys had gained access.
The witness was asked if Pastor Tiffanie had said for the beatings to stop, would they have stopped? Her answer is, “I think so.” She said that the boys never tried to leave. She said that the next morning she heard the pastor call for her parents with a sense of urgency. She went into the large sanctuary and saw Lucas on the floor, not moving. She said that she didn’t think he was seriously injured or dead. They began praying for him.
Traci Irwin and Christopher Leonard were performing CPR on Lucas and Tiffanie decided that Lucas had to be taken to the hospital. The witness stayed at the church with Linda Morey and Sarah Ferguson.
She testified that she was afraid to change the diapers of her niece because Grace had been sexually abused and she was concerned she could become a perpetrator. She also repeated that she didn’t feel Lucas was seriously hurt ad had held his breath until he passed out.
Under cross examination, the witness testified that in the evening she was told that the police were coming. She did not know that Lucas had died and she thought that Christopher was fine.
Judge Michael Dwyer asks the witness a few questions. He did the same the day before with witness Christopher Leonard. The judge asks if the witness ever told her parents about the sex abuse by her brothers. She tells the judge that they were not allegations, but facts.
The witness was then dismissed from the stand.