State court hears Word of Life sentencing appeal

Sarah Ferguson was convicted of manslaughter, gang assault and assault in the beatings of her brothers Lucas and Christopher Leonard.

Posted: Sep 4, 2019 1:35 PM
Updated: Sep 4, 2019 5:40 PM

ROCHESTER, NY - The first Word of Life Church member to be sentenced in the death of her half-brother -- and assault of another brother --had her appeal heard in Appellate Court, in Rochester, Wednesday morning.

Sarah Ferguson was sentenced to 25 years in state prison in September 2016, after being convicted of manslaughter, gang assault and assault. She was accused of whipping her brothers Lucas and Christopher Leonard with an electrical cord at the church in October 2015. Lucas Leonard died as a result of his injuries. Other family members, including the Leonards’ parents, were sentenced to state prison for their roles in the beatings.

Ferguson is appealing the Oneida County Court’s sentence of 25 years in prison, and her case was heard before the 4th Judicial Department Appellate Division in Rochester.

Ferguson's attorney, Peter DiGiorgio, argued that her actions rose to the level of recklessness, but not intent. He suggested the crime was manslaughter in the 2nd degree; not 1st degree. Second-degree manslaughter carries a shorter sentence of up to five to 15 years in state prison. 

Some of the justices hearing the case pointed out that the beating, for which Ferguson was present and participated in, lasted roughly 14 hours, and that victim, Lucas Leonard, bled so profusely that his assailants put a tarp beneath him to catch the blood.

Chief Appelate Counsel, Steve Cox, argued the case for the Oneida County District Attorney's Office, maintaining that Ferguson's intent was clear and illustrated by her actions. 

The judges' decision will be posted on the court website in approximately six to eight weeks. 

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