Upstate NY cult member appeals conviction in brother’s death


Sarah Ferguson's attorney argues for a lighter sentence citing remorse

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Sarah Ferguson, one of the cult members serving time after the death of Lucas Leonard in 2015 had her case heard by appellate judges in Rochester Tuesday.

She’s serving 25 years for first degree manslaughter.

Prosecutors say she played a leading role in the death of her brother, Lucas Leonard, who was beaten and left to bleed out inside Word of Life Church in Chadwicks, New York which is outside of Utica.

Leonard’s brother, Christopher, was also assaulted.

Several other family members took part in the beating which was orchestrated by the cult’s leader, Tiffanie Irwin.

Ferguson’s attorney, Peter DiGiorgio, Tuesday told the judges first degree manslaughter was too serious a charge because Ferguson did not intend to cause serious harm, just harm.

Outside the courtroom, Oneida County Assistant District Attorney Steve Cox disagreed.

“At one point after more than 30 blows (from an electrical cord) specifically at these boys’ groins they had dropped to the ground several times, had been forced to get back up and take more,” Cox pointed out.

Ferguson’s attorney also argued that because other Word of Life members received much lighter sentences and because Ferguson is remorseful her sentence should be shortened.

Susan Ashline, who wrote a book about the cult and crime called Without a Prayer, said several in the Leonard family she has spoken with do not believe that.

“There was no remorse from her, there was no level of accountability from her. To this day, as far as I know, she has said she’s kind of stuck in that cult mentality and they have expressed to me coming to this court appearance today they believe she hasn’t shown any remorse, no responsibility and that she is a danger to people until she accepts that responsibility, they want her to stay in there unless and until she can take accountability for her actions,” Ashline said.

A decision from the court is expected later this month.

Ashline was featured on Adam’s Interviews in August, and spoke at length about the case, and what inspired her to write a book about it.

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