US teen killed in church attack wanted out

  • 17/10/2015
Joseph Irwin stands in court for a second-degree assault of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard in New Hartford (Reuters)
Joseph Irwin stands in court for a second-degree assault of 19-year-old Lucas Leonard in New Hartford (Reuters)

The US teenager recently beaten to death by his parents and several members of a religious sect in New York had expressed his desire to leave their church, police say.

On Sunday night (local time), Lucas Leonard, 19, and his brother Christopher, 17, were reportedly beaten for hours by their parents and other members of the "Word of Life Christian Church" in New Hartford, about 400 kilometres northwest of New York City.

Lucas died the day after the brutal beating and Christopher remained hospitalised on Friday.

Friday's revelation that Lucas had wanted to leave the church offered a possible explanation for why the "counselling session" was initiated, New Hartford police chief Michael Inserra said, but many questions remained unanswered.

"We still not have concluded why the session turned so violent," he told reporters on Friday, adding that some "type of a cord" was used in the assault.

Inserra also said accusations made by the brothers' father, Bruce Leonard, that his son was a child molester were unfounded.

Inserra said that all the sect's children had been questioned at length and that there was "absolutely no indication of any sexual abuse" to any of the children.

"The deceased and his brother are victims in this horrible crime, and, again, there is no evidence that the brothers did anything. They are at this point the true victims," he said.

Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged with manslaughter and were scheduled to appear in court Friday afternoon, but the hearing was postponed to next Friday.

Four other members of the sect, including a half-sister of the brothers, were also charged.

The church, founded in the 1980s, has some 40 members.

AFP