N.Y. woman found guilty of manslaughter in beating death of half brother

Story highlights

  • Sarah Ferguson was accused in beating death of her half brother in 2015
  • Her other half brother was beaten but survived

(CNN)A member of a small upstate New York church was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree manslaughter for her role in the 2015 fatal beating of her half brother, but not guilty on a murder charge.

Sarah Ferguson was found not guilty of the most serious charge against her, second-degree murder. But she was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the death of Lucas Leonard at the Word of Life Church in New Hartford.
    Judge Michael Dwyer also found Ferguson guilty of two counts of first-degree gang assault and two counts of first-degree assault in connection with the beatings of Leonard and his brother, Christopher.
    Christopher Leonard survived. He testified that Ferguson "hit [him] the most" with a cord and that he was hit in the back, chest, legs and genital area. He said she did check on him after the beating was over.
    Dwyer said he did not believe much of Ferguson's testimony.
    There are six ongoing cases related to the beatings and the judge said a court-imposed gag order will continue. CNN reached out to an attorney for Ferguson but didn't get an immediate response.
    Ferguson's sentencing is scheduled for September 1. The Class B violent felonies are each punishable with up to 25 years in prison.
    She is one of eight people charged in connection with Lucas Leonard's October 2015 death. An autopsy showed Lucas Leonard suffered multiple contusions from blunt-force trauma to the torso and extremities, authorities said.
    A few weeks ago, Bruce Leonard, Lucas and Christopher's father, accepted a plea deal from the Oneida County District Attorney's Office. Bruce Leonard pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree assault charges, and is now required to testify against the other defendants in the case.
    The other defendants have entered not guilty pleas, according to an official in the clerk's office at the Oneida County Court.
    The fatal beating of Lucas Leonard, 19, came after he had "expressed a desire to leave" the church about 250 miles north of New York City, New Hartford police Chief Michael Inserra said in October.
    That apparently prompted a counseling session on the spiritual state of Lucas and Christopher, now 18, Inserra said. Lucas Leonard's beating occurred during that session.
    The church, which began in 1984, has about five families, or about 35 members, including children, a former Word of Life church member said last year. The woman, who asked not to be identified, described the congregation as a "makeshift family" that had been together for 25 years.