A Word of Life Christian Church defendant accused of inflicting the blows that killed her younger brother was sentenced to a state prison sentence Thursday.
UTICA — A Word of Life Christian Church defendant accused of inflicting the blows that killed her younger brother was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in state prison.
Following an eight-day July bench trial Sarah Ferguson, 34, was found guilty on five counts in connection to the October incident in which 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and 17-year-old Christopher Leonard were whipped inside the Chadwicks church. Lucas died of his injuries. Christopher was seriously injured.
Ferguson testified at trial that she was “shocked” and “angered” by their alleged admittance under questioning by church members that they sexually abused her children and aimed for their groins when she whipped them.
She maintained at her sentencing Thursday that she did not knowingly inflict serious damage to either teen during the Oct. 11 beating, which spanned into the next day.
“I’m not exactly sure what to say except for I think that it’s important that you realize regardless of what popular belief may be or what the probation report says, I do truly love my brothers,” she said. “I did not intend to purposefully inflict — knowingly inflict serious physical damage. I was not aware. I just snapped — my brain just could not — I couldn’t handle anymore and I truly, I truly am sorry for causing them pain.”
Ferguson then began to weep.
“I really am sorry,” she cried. “Oh my god.”
In addition to the 25-year prison sentence, she also was ordered to 10 years’ post-release supervision on charges of first-degree manslaughter, two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree gang assault.
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara told the court that in his 24 years as a prosecutor, this was “probably the most malicious, callous and brutal beating” he had seen. He said Ferguson acted as a “judge, jury and executioner” over false allegations the teens had admitted to regarding the sexual abuse.
“Your honor, this defendant holds herself up to be a religious person and apparently now she’s putting up a picture (in the courtroom) about precious moments and showing her children,” he said. “You know what, your honor, there’s a certain amount of hypocrisy to that because your honor she broke one of the 10 commandments. There is no biblical law or man-made law that justifies what she did. There’s no justification in this case.”
He said there was information the prosecution could not bring out at trial that Ferguson allegedly punished her children by whipping them with a “paint-stirrer stick” and that “this is how she inflicts punishment on people.” He also alleged that her children showed signs of physical abuse on them when they were interviewed by law enforcement.
A witness called during Ferguson’s trial testified that the children did not show signs of sexual abuse at the time she examined them, but could not testify with certainty that such abuse did not occur.
Ferguson’s defense attorney Rebecca Wittman told the court that Ferguson’s world was her children — a world that was ripped apart Oct. 11.
“Whether the things said by Lucas and Christopher at the counseling session were true or not, Sarah was told in excruciating detail about sexual abuse that had been perpetrated against those children as recently as that very morning,” Wittman said. “Her worst fears had been realized. She already told you at trial and to probation how she reacted when she heard this. She reacted like a mother.”
Wittman had asked that her client’s sentence be comparable to that of her parents Bruce and Deborah Leonard, who pleaded guilty on assault charges for sentences of up to 15 years and five years in state prison, respectively.
She said Bruce Leonard’s own words to the probation department summarized the case: “Unfortunate reactions to unfortunate words,” she read. “Bad decisions made. Grief, agony, isolation, regret.”
Judge Michael Dwyer told the court he was limiting his comments due to the upcoming Wednesday, Oct. 12 trial date for six of Ferguson’s co-defendants.
He said it was “inconceivable” to him that no one tried to stop the beating.
“I think the bottom line in this case Ms. Ferguson is that you killed your brother,” Dwyer said. “You were responsible for the whipping and the blows you inflicted were the ones responsible for killing your brother. That’s the bottom line. The facts are not going to change.”
Follow @OD_Parker on Twitter or call her at 315-792-5063.
O-D reporter Micaela Parker was Oneida County Court this morning for the sentencing of Word of Life Christian Church defendant Sarah Ferguson.
Here are her updates from the courtroom: