By Victor Ochieng
A woman who participated in an attack in which her half brother lost his life was acquitted of the murder and assault charges on Tuesday she was facing and instead convicted of manslaughter. The 14-hour group beating, which was executed in the middle of a church counseling session, saw another person injured.
In the acquittal, Oneida County Judge Michael Dwyer said prosecutors in the case failed to prove that the accused, Sarah Ferguson, intended to kill her 19-year-old half brother, Lucas Leonard. The woman had beaten two brothers using an electrical cord during the counseling session at the Word of Life Christian Church in October.
Ferguson and nine relatives and church members, who were charged in the case, said in court last week that the victims had confessed during counseling that they’d abused Ferguson’s children.
After being convicted, Ferguson left the courtroom without uttering a word.
The judge said he didn’t quite believe Ferguson’s testimony.
“Sarah Ferguson … testified that after the beating she saw both boys standing and that they looked OK to her,” the judge said as he explained his verdict. “She also testified that she did not think that they needed medical attention.”
District Attorney Scott McNamara said Leonard and his younger brother were beaten and ordered to repent different sins, including the use of a voodoo doll. The police said nothing of evidentiary value was adduced in court to support the s*xual abuse claims. The counseling service was called by the church pastor after reports came out that the brothers had plans on leaving the church.
McNamara said during the trial that Leonard died slowly from the injuries sustained in the beating. He reportedly collapsed and became unconscious as a result of blood loss through a cut in his penis. The prosecutor added that Leonard’s younger brother, 17-year-old Christopher Leonard, had to stay in a hospital for a whole week after sustaining injury to his kidney and lung.
The county judge continued a gag order issued previously, saying the move is to ensure that the pending six cases aren’t interfered with.
The cases carry different charges, including manslaughter, gang assault, murder, assault and kidnapping.
One of the accused in the case is Tiffanie Irwin, the pastor of the church. Irwin’s mother Traci Irwin and his brothers Daniel and Joseph Irwin are also facing charges. All of them have taken a not guilty plea.