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US church counselling session turns deadly

by: Associated Free Press - October 15, 2015
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Word of Life Church (Photo: cnn.com)

Word of Life Church (Photo: cnn.com)

NEW YORK, United States (AFP) – A spiritual counselling session turned deadly at a church in New York state this week, when a teenager was beaten to death and his brother left with serious injuries.

The boys’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard – aged 65 and 59 – each face a felony charge of manslaughter in the first degree, the New Hartford Police Department said.

Four other members of the so-called Word of Life Church were also arrested, and charged with second-degree assault.

“Both brothers were continually subjected to physical punishment over the course of several hours, in hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness,” police chief Michael Inserra said Wednesday.

The nature of the alleged sins was unclear, but both brothers suffered “blunt force trauma” to their bodies due to the assault, according to police.

Lucas Leonard, 19, was pronounced dead at a hospital on Monday after church members brought him there. Hours later, his 17-year-old brother Christopher was found at the church.

The younger brother was now being treated at hospital for his injuries and was in “serious” condition, according to police.

“It took us hours to find Christopher,” Inserra said.

“Family members, to be quite honest, were reluctant to share the information.”

More arrests are expected in the case.

“We’re not alleging they intended to kill their son,” Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said at a news conference.

“We’re just alleging they were trying to seriously hurt their son, and ultimately he died from his injuries.”

Neighbours told Syracuse.com that the church was a “cult” and its members could often be heard singing chants in the dead of the night in the building, which previously housed a school.