NEW HARTFORD , N.Y., Oct. 22 (UPI) -- After a survivor of a beating at an upstate New York church testified in court about his brother's beating death, a judge allowed the case against one alleged assailant to continue.
Christopher Leonard, 17, described the incident at a Wednesday hearing to determine if Sarah Ferguson, 33, his stepsister, was involved in the alleged beating.
Christopher said he and his brother Lucas, 19, were assaulted after Lucas expressed his desire to leave the Word of Life Christian Church, a small and reclusive sect in New Hartford, N.Y.
Lucas died of his injuries. The beating was so severe that hospital emergency room personnel initially believed he was shot.
Bruce T. Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, the brothers' parents, as well as church leaders, have been charged with first-degree manslaughter in Lucas' death.
Ferguson and Joseph Irwin, 26, the son of the church's late longtime leader, were also charged with felony assault. Two other church members were charged with assault and have posted bail.
In court Wednesday, Christopher described how he and his brother were allegedly lashed with "a black cord, about 4 feet long. It was folded twice" as they faced questioning.
"Joe Irwin came over grabbed me by the sweatshirt, counted to three, and then he punched me in the stomach," Christopher said.
Of the attack on his brother, he said, "He was laying on the ground moaning ... I knew something wasn't right. ... I rushed over and saw he wasn't breathing, so I tried to give him CPR."
The death of Lucas shocked the community of New Hartford, a town 250 miles north of New York City.
The judge at the hearing determined there is sufficient evidence against Ferguson for her case to continue.