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Press News

Selected news summaries of recent press reports are posted below.
Older news summaries are posted on the News Archive page.


High court upholds life sentence for Aum member Katsuya Takahashi

“The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that sentenced a former Aum Shinrikyo fugitive to life in prison for his role in the doomsday cult’s 1995 sarin attacks on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and sickened thousands. Katsuya Takahashi, 58, was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court in April 2015 of murder and other crimes for his role as a driver for one of the cult members who released the deadly poison on a subway car on March 20, 1995. Takahashi was also accused of involvement in three other attacks orchestrated by Aum during its heyday in the early 1990s.… Takahashi was apprehended in Tokyo in June 2012 after nearly 17 years on the run. He was the last Aum Shinrikyo member on a special nationwide wanted list...” (Japan Times, Kyodo, 09/07/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Russia’s High Court Bans Aum Shinrikyo

“The Russian Supreme Court has branded the Japanese doomsday cult group Aum Shinrikyo a terrorist organization. The Moscow court banned the infamous group on September 20. Aum Shinrikyo was founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984. It was banned in many countries after its members carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.” (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 09/20/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Victimless prosecution used to jail man for coercive-control offenses 

“A 24-year-old who assaulted his girlfriend and stopped her wearing makeup is believed to be the first person to be jailed for coercive control offences using victimless prosecution. On the night the man was arrested, he had started slapping his 21-year-old girlfriend at a party and poured a can of lager over her while he continued the ‘beating’ which resulted in him bursting her eardrum… Controlling or coercive behavior … could include: stopping a victim from socializing; limiting access to family, friends and finances; monitoring a person via online communication tools, for example using tracking apps on mobile phones; threatening to reveal or publish private information… Victimless prosecution—also known as evidence-based prosecution—is used by prosecutors in domestic violence cases to convict abusers without the cooperation of an alleged victim… After the injury to the victim’s ear, DCI Gadd said the offender was arrested and interviewed. ‘He denied everything.’ CPS authorized the charges of section 20 assault, common assault and engaging in controlling and coercive behavior.” (The Telegraph, 09/09/16) 
[IT 8.1, 2017]

The Prophet of cult-like church near Owen Sound gets 18 months for assaulting members

“Fred King, known to his parishioners simply as ‘The Prophet,’ was sentenced today to 18 months’ jail followed by two years’ probation. His church, which came to public attention first through a W5 television expose, has disbanded, according to defense lawyer Paul Mergler. King, 57, pleaded guilty in May to nine assaults which took place between Dec. 12, 1988, and Aug. 10, 2008, mostly in Chatsworth Township or elsewhere in Grey County, and in one case in Peel Region, involving four church members... King’s victims in the charges he admitted to include three males between 11 and 19 years of age at the time, and Carol Christie. She and husband John Christie did not attend the sentencing because they attended a funeral instead… Letters from three of King’s children, all adults now, and from his wife, who attended court Wednesday, were submitted for the judge to consider. They work for the family printing business too. ‘The church has been disbanded. So all of those people are there because they want to be,’ Mergler said. King always ‘adamantly denied’ any of the sexual charges, he noted. But his crimes, court case precedents and terms of the Criminal Code all ‘cry out for a jail term’ in this case, he said. ‘Clearly the time for impunity has [passed].’ Fred King’s brother, Judson King, is charged with assault with a weapon, sexual assault and three counts of assault between 1981 and 2007. He is to appear in assignment court in the Superior Court of Justice Nov. 7.” (Vancouver Sun, 09/14/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

A new documentary looks at role of women in the Gloriavale community

“The Gloriavale community on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island has been described as a cult that is more sinister than the idyllic location would lead you to believe. Beyond the rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains is a very uniformed and regimented Christian community. It is isolated and secular and the 500 members have very little contact with the outside world. Members say they don’t want to associate themselves with the evil, adultery, drug use and fornication that the outside world engages in… A new documentary, Gloriavale: A Woman’s Place, has explored life inside the community and how being a wife is the top job for a woman. Dove Love, 22, features in the documentary and she is longing to get married. She has been doing the washing for everybody in the community and she’s ready to be promoted to the role of a wife, where she is required to submit herself to her husband… Once a couple is married, and a woman vows to submit while the man vows to be the leader, they embrace for a number of minutes. They are then carried to a ‘consummation room’ immediately where they are expected to lose their virginities… Members of Gloriavale don’t get many choices—they are told what to wear and where to work. Marriages are arranged when members are as young as 12, and Gloriavale leader Neville Cooper believes that’s the age a girl becomes a woman… A lot of controversy surrounded the community when Cooper, who changed his name to Hopeful Christian, was jailed on sexual abuse charges in 1995. His son and a young woman fled the community and testified against Cooper. Those who leave the community are shunned, and they can’t contact those who remain part of the community.” (News.com.au, 08/06/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Utah Jehovah’s Witnesses church forced woman to listen to audio of her rape, lawsuit says

“A woman is suing a Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Weber County after, she says, one of its instructors repeatedly raped her when she was a minor and the organization’s leadership forced her to listen to an audio recording of one of the assaults. The woman filed the lawsuit Wednesday in 2nd District Court, accusing the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Roy—as well as naming the alleged perpetrator, several church leaders and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the religion’s headquarters located in New York)—of knowingly allowing the ‘unfit’ instructor to rise to a position of authority without warning members of his ‘dangerous propensities’ and past sexual transgressions. … A leader from the congregation apparently warned the girl’s parents in November 2006 that the instructor—who previously attended church sessions in Ogden and Oregon—was a ‘bad kid’ who had ‘engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female member of the Clearfield congregation.’ The plaintiff says that warning wasn’t enough. ... She’s asking for a jury trial, as well as damages to exceed $300,000 to cover medical care, lawyer fees and general damages. The girl was a member of various Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations until shortly after the assaults. Her case was dismissed in November 2015 for failure to serve the defendants in a timely manner. She was able to refile because the dismissal was not based on the lawsuit’s merits.” (The Salt Lake Tribune, 10/14/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor raided in Guatemala over suspected child abuse

“According to local media reports, the raid lasted several hours at the homes where a 200-odd strong community live. Authorities in Guatemala raided the homes of a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Guatemala City on Wednesday amid accusations of child abuse. The same Lev Tahor community have been forced to abandon Israel, the United States, and Canada, where the Lev Tahor group’s strict religious ways had clashed with authorities in those countries… An unidentified member of the Lev Tahor community dismissed the allegations and said the Lev Tahor were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. He also said they rejected the state of Israel because it views the Jews as a people in exile. ‘It’s a disgrace that authorities here in Guatemala let the government of Israel in (he means that the government of Israel is persecuting them) just like the Poles who sold their people to the Germans, such as the Hungarians and all those countries who sold their people to people who want to persecute others,’ said the bearded man, who like other men in the Lev Tahor, which means ‘Pure Heart’ in Hebrew, has his head shaved and wears sidelocks beneath a black hat. Eschewing technological trappings such as television and computers, daily life among the Lev Tahor, whose women wear body cloaks similar to a burqa, is steeped in religion.” (Jerusalem Post Israel News, Reuters, 09/15/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Lev Tahor Raid in Guatemala Yields No New Evidence

“For Uriel Goldman, it’s deja vu all over again. Just as had been the case in Canada, Lev Tahor, the ultra-observant Orthodox sect has been the subject of intense scrutiny in Guatemala by police and child care workers. And just as had been the case in Canada, investigation of the community has failed to turn up any evidence of child abuse or of any sort of law-breaking. Goldman, a spokesperson for the group, said ... that Guatemalan police raided two adjacent apartment buildings on the outskirts of Guatemala City, where the 350-member community resided… Goldman, a native of Israel, suggested the ‘very secular’ Israeli sister of one Lev Tahor member is behind many of the allegations… The Guatemala raid was the latest result of allegations stemming from Israel, Goldman suggested.” (Canadian Jewish News, 10/05/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Pedophile cult leader released from jail wants tracking device removed, even as daughter fears he will reoffend with underage followers

“William Kamm, known as ‘Little Pebble,’ was released from prison last year after serving nine years for raping two 15-year-old girls while he led a sect. Now the 66-year-old has appealed for a court order to stop monitoring his movements after he was placed under supervision over fears he could reoffend. However, his daughter Brigidine told A Current Affair she believes her father could ‘start another cult’ if the legal system overturns his supervision order… Kamm was placed under supervision over concerns he could rejoin with members of his sect—and his order prevented him from returning to the South Coast town.” (Daily Mail Australia, 08/16/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

China jails members of banned Mentuhui/Disciples Sect amid religion crackdown

“China has jailed members of what the government calls a cult for causing deaths, organizing the group and illegally collecting money, state media said on Tuesday, part of a crackdown on what Beijing views as dangerous religious movements… The official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday said Yao Xiangzhi, a member of Mentuhui, or “Disciples Sect” in the central province of Hubei, caused the death of another cult member by denying him freedom, food and drink for a week while people prayed for his recovery from schizophrenia. Yao was also found guilty of organizing a cult and was jailed for three years. Mentuhui, which was classified as a cult by the government in the 1990s, was also accused of illegally collecting 40 million yuan ($6 million) between 2011 and 2014 through donations and businesses, Xinhua reported… It was not immediately possible to reach representatives of the religious group or lawyers for those found guilty for comment.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reuters, 09/27/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Onionhead ruled a religion in Syosset discrimination case

“A Brooklyn federal judge has ruled that a Syosset health care business will have to face a discrimination trial for allegedly forcing workers to pray, chant and participate in spiritual interpersonal workshops known as ‘Onionhead’ and ‘Harnessing Happiness.’ U.S. District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto said the program—represented by a logo with an anthropomorphic onion—amounted to a religion, and United Health Programs of America had to face charges from 10 workers that they were fired for failing to go along. ...One New Jersey woman, Matsumoto said, was told that ‘a message from the universe or God’ required her to move to Long Island, and was terminated when she didn’t. Two women said they were fired after disclosing they were Catholic and didn’t want to participate in Onionhead. The judge said Onionhead’s approach—‘chants and prayers, mentions of God, transcendence, and souls, and the strong emphasis on spirituality’—compared to other ‘non-traditional’ belief systems courts have found to be tantamount to religion, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The judge’s ruling, released last Friday, said claims of a hostile work environment based on reverse religious discrimination on behalf of all 10 plaintiffs would go to a jury, but she also dismissed some claims.” (Newsday, 10/4/16) [IT 8.1, 2017] 

Canada’s biggest polygamist says he doesn’t favor legalizing polygamy 

“The Canadian government is prosecuting Winston Blackmore for polygamy… Blackmore has married 27 women and has 145 children… Blackmore, 59, was the bishop for the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [FLDS] in a community within Lister, British Columbia known as Bountiful. In 2002, the Jeffs family ousted Blackmore. In what residents there refer to as ‘The Split,’ many of Blackmore’s parishioners followed him out of the FLDS. He still acts as a bishop to those who follow him. Blackmore spoke to Sunstone about his family history. Toward the end of his lecture, Blackmore addressed the legal action Canada has taken against him. He was arrested in 2007—handcuffed in front of his children, he said—on a charge of polygamy. A court later dismissed the case over concerns of how the special prosecutor was selected… Blackmore contended Friday that Canada has changed the definition of common-law marriages in order to prosecute him. He said that he and his wives have officially declared themselves ‘friends.’” (Salt Lake Tribune, 08/02/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Two polygamous leaders are arrested while awaiting trial on food-stamp-fraud charges

“Seth Jeffs and John Wayman, two leaders in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [FLDS], were arrested Monday on suspicion of violating the terms of their release from jail as they await trial in a food-stamp-fraud case. Seth Jeffs—brother to imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs—and John Wayman, a business owner and former bishop for the polygamous sect, were booked into Washington County jail after being accused of violating their pre-trial release conditions, said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City. The men were ordered to wear GPS ankle monitors and remain in Utah, though Seth Jeffs was given limited travel release to South Dakota, where he leads an FLDS congregation. Rydalch did not say which conditions the men are suspected of violating. Jail records indicate Seth Jeffs was arrested by a Washington County sheriff’s deputy, while Wayman was arrested by a federal agent… Lyle Jeffs, Seth Jeffs, Wayman and eight others have pleaded not guilty to fraud and money-laundering charges alleging they diverted at least $12 million worth of food-stamp benefits from FLDS members in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., collectively known as Short Creek. FLDS sect leaders instructed followers to donate items they bought with their food-stamp cards to a church warehouse, prosecutors say, then the leaders decided how to distribute the products among the membership. In addition, food stamps allegedly were cashed at sect-owned stores without the users getting anything in return. The money was then diverted to front companies and used to pay thousands for a tractor, truck and other items, prosecutors say.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 08/01/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Trial begins for three people facing child-removal charges

“A trial for three people associated with the polygamous [FLDS] community of Bountiful facing alleged child-related charges began on Monday in Cranbrook Supreme Court. Brandon Blackmore, Emily Blackmore and James Oler are all facing one count of removal of a child from Canada, with each charge being approved by a special prosecutor in August 2014.... According to a government release, the unlawful removal of a child from Canada charges were approved following new information gathered during the investigations in the U.S., with RCMP receiving a large volume of documentary information seized by American authorities. Additional charges were considered, namely, alleged offences of sexual exploitation; however, those charges were not approved after Wilson determined that the standard was not met.” (Cranbrook Daily Townsman, 10/24/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Minnesota cult leader Victor Barnard sentenced to 30 years

“On Friday, two rape survivors ended Minnesota cult leader Victor Barnard’s reign. The 55-year-old was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting two women for years. Barnard was the leader of the River Road Fellowship, an offshoot Christian sect he founded and transformed into a cult. The two women who ultimately filed 59 counts of sexual assault against Barnard were the youngest of ten first-born daughters, ages 12 to 24, whom Barnard selected to be the group’s ‘Ten Maidens,’ in 2000. As chaste, exemplar virgins, the girls lived apart from their families at Barnard’s private camp, where he secretly raped them for a decade. Barnard pleaded guilty earlier this month on two counts of felony sexual assault and agreed to 30 years in a plea deal. The final sentencing hearing on Friday ended four months of U.S. court proceedings, following Barnard’s capture in Brazil, and allowed the two survivors to read statements describing the impact Barnard’s crimes had on their lives. …Defense attorney Marsh Halberg, who represented Barnard with Dave Risk, said that if Barnard complies with conditions, which include sex counseling, he could serve only two-thirds of the sentence—about 17 to 18 years. ‘He really did want to spare everybody—the victims, the church, the community,’ Halberg said, acknowledging that other people considered Barnard’s decision to not enter a trial as martyrdom. ‘I appreciate that they don’t see it that way. He didn’t want to put people through it.’ Pine County attorney Reese Frederickson said he shortened his own argument to let the women’s powerful statements speak for themselves. ‘The sentencing brings closure for the victims and the community,’ he said. ‘Justice was served.’” (New York Magazine, 10/28/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

A fringe Hindu group suspected in the deaths of Indian secularists

Abhay Vartak aspires to live in a divine kingdom in which everyone is truthful and virtuous, leaving no room for violence or crime. Justice would be dispensed by a benevolent king, as it was during the rule of the Hindu god Ram, according to mythological Hindu texts. Vartak, who holds a bachelor’s degree in science, is the spokesman of Sanatan Sanstha, a radical Hindu organization in India that aims to establish the kingdom by 2023… The Hindu fringe group, with its cult-like beliefs and behaviors, has a following in three states in southwestern India. It has emerged as the prime suspect behind the murders of three prominent secular thinkers in recent years. Indian authorities in June arrested a Sanatan member in connection with the 2013 assassination of activist Narendra Dabholkar. In September, another Sanatan member was arrested for the 2015 killing of author and politician Govind Pansare, 81… Established as a charitable trust in 1990 by hypnotherapist Jayant Athavle, Sanatan is based in the coastal state of Goa and maintains strict secrecy around the ashrams it operates.” (Los Angeles Times, 08/07/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Mexico sees spike in death cult, demonic possession, exorcisms

“One cleric who regularly performs exorcisms, Pastor Hugo Alvarez, attributes the rise of demonic possessions to increased dabbling in the occult, including black magic, Santeria, witchcraft, sorcery, Satanism and especially the cult of Santa Muerte. Alvarez, author of Deliverance: A Ministry for the Church, said that ‘Santa Muerte is one of the trickiest and most dangerous practices, since they present a saint, but there’s a demon behind it. Satan’s greatest deceit is making people believe he doesn’t exist,’ he said… In his visit to Mexico last February, Pope Francis denounced the devotion to Santa Muerte, telling the Mexican bishops that he was particularly concerned about ‘those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death.’ … The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, has also condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as ‘sinister and infernal’ and called for both Church and society to mobilize against devotion to Saint Death. ‘It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; it’s a blasphemy against religion,’ he said. ‘Everyone is needed to put the brakes on this phenomenon, including families, churches and society in its totality,” Ravasi said, adding that the Santa Muerte cult ‘is the celebration of devastation and of hell.’” (13 Breitbart News, 09/29/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis ban women from going to university

“Ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis have banned women from going to university, The Independent has learned. The strict Satmar sect issued the decree, seen by The Independent, warning that university education for women is ‘dangerous.’ The decree was issued from the sect’s base in New York and will apply to followers of the faith group around the world. Ultra-Orthodox Jews follow a pre-enlightenment interpretation of traditional Judaism and discourage interaction with the modern or secular world. Men wear 19th century Eastern European dress including long black coats and black hats, while married women must dress modestly and cover their hair. The Board of Deputies of British Jews estimates that there are around 30,000 strictly Orthodox Jews living in the UK, of which Satmar is the largest sect… It was condemned by Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance… ‘There are probably other factors at play, but, ultimately, the results are devastating. Because people from similar communities are not provided with a foundational primary education, they cannot pursue higher education nor careers. When one does not have access to education, career opportunities are out of reach. It forces one to stay within the community as everyone’s personal lives are tied up with their professional lives as well.’” (The Independent, 08/23/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Child-abuse Royal Commission: Children lived in fear of yoga ashram leader

“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has examined the handling of complaints made against the former spiritual leader of the Satyananda Yoga Ashram, at Mangrove Mountain on the New South Wales Central Coast, Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, and his former partner Shishy. The allegations were made over a period of 40 years and related to sexual abuse that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. During public hearings in October 2014, six survivors each called for a $1 million compensation payment… The ashram is now called Mangrove Yoga, having previously traded as the Satyananda Yoga Academy. The commission said the case study would help identify the potential problems with power imbalances involving a charismatic leader at an isolated institution; the isolation of children from their parents and the community, and meeting the needs of survivors of child sexual abuse.” (ABC Online, 09/14/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Church of Scientology defends use of Sydney school children in advertising

“The children, from Newtown’s [Australia] Athena School, appeared in advertisement for the church alongside their principal Fiona Milne in July’s I’m a Scientologist promotional video. Schools associated with the Church of Scientology are receiving large portions of state funding in comparison with state schools. In this promotional video produced by the church, Sydney school principal Fiona talks about what Scientology means for her and her students. ...The church has strenuously maintained the school and the church are separate organizations. The school teaches the ‘Way to Happiness’ philosophy of Scientology leader L. Ron Hubbard, but does not disclose that philosophy’s link to the church on any promotional material. ...‘It’s very weird, the ANZO buses come and they all march down the street in black at 8:30 in the morning before leaving at 11:30 at night,’ said a neighbor who asked only to be referred to as Karen. ‘They are entitled to their beliefs, they’ve been very welcoming, knocked on doors and invited us over,’ she said. ‘My partner is worried about house prices, but I think maybe rich Scientologists might buy in the area instead, so we might be lucky,’ she said.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 10/30/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Leah Remini reportedly suing Church of Scientology for $1.5M

“Leah Remini has reportedly demanded the Church of Scientology pay her $1.5 million after it tried to persuade a TV network to shut down her new docuseries, Scientology and the Aftermath. ...The actress was blacklisted after she left the church in 2013 (she joined as a child), and she claims the purpose of the series is to give a voice to others who’ve fled the religion and have allegedly been harassed because of it. ...A spokesman for the church publicly responded to Remini’s lawyer, calling the demand for compensation, ‘nothing more than a provocative ploy to generate publicity for what will no doubt be another failed program by a failed ‘celebrity’ seeking to make a buck off of her former religion,’ and added that ‘the Church will freely exercise its constitutional rights.’…Remini says what draws people to the religion is the idea they can better themselves. ‘They claim that they have the technology to get you to the highest enlightenment of that spiritual side of you and to be the best part of you,’ she says, adding, ‘what Scientology offers is a bigger game. You’re part of an elite group saving the planet.’ …Remini is producing the new TV series, which comes a year after she penned an autobiography titled Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, an eight-episode docuseries about the religion and its effects on her life, …[premiered] Nov. 29 at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.” (Smart Living & Entertainment Global News, 10/23/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Pastor pleads guilty to manslaughter, assault after ‘counseling session’ turned fatal

“19-year-old Lucas Leonard and his 17-year-old brother Christopher had sinned. One of Lucas’s sins was his desire to leave the church [Word of Life] entirely, to seek a new path. Tiffanie Irwin, the church’s pastor, along with other worshipers there, wouldn’t accept any sort of new path and decided the teens needed to repent. So, on Oct. 11, 2015, the pastor gathered with her brother Joseph Irwin, mother-son pair Linda and David Morey and several other believers at their church in New Hartford, N.Y., and decided to hold a ‘counseling session.’ Among them were the teens’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard. ... During that time, the Associated Press reported, the congregation told the brothers they had to repent for sins of all stripes—such as using a voodoo doll or allegedly molesting their half-sister’s children, a claim police say is unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence—according to Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara. To force this repentance, the worshipers beat the teens for most of the 14 hours, taking a folded four-foot electrical cord to their torsos and genitals while telling them to ‘confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness.’ ... Sarah Ferguson, the teens’ half-sister, was the only one of the nine involved to decline a plea deal. She was found guilty after a non-jury trial in July, and she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. ... ‘There’s always been weird things going on,’ Howard told WKTV. ‘You always hear dogs, they’re breeding dogs. The cops have been called there before, they’re not allowed in the building, they can’t get in the building. The cult thing over here has been going on for a while, I guess around 30 years. It’s their own religion.’ A reporter from the Syracuse Post-Standard entered the church days after Lucas died. There, he found the place in a state of disarray. One room contained Styrofoam cups of cold coffee and a half-eaten pork sandwich. In another room was a framed, stitched textile that read, in part, ‘We have been commissioned through the written word of God to reach out to those who have not experienced the love of Jesus Christ in their lives. … Through the systematic training up of saints, our goal is for them to reach out confidently, sharing the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.’ A sign still hung on the front door, reading ‘Welcome to Word of Life.’ It is unclear whether the house of worship is still operating, although after the arrests, police told the Post-Standard that several children from the church had been placed in protective custody. Sentencing hearings for the eight people who have pleaded guilty are scheduled for December and January.” (Washington Post, 10/24/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]

Sarah Ferguson, first Word of Life defendant, sentenced for manslaughter

“The first Word of Life defendant to be sentenced proclaimed her love, through tears, for the brother she whipped to death and the other, whom she assaulted. ‘I do truly love my brothers. I did not intent [sic] or purposefully inflict, knowingly, serious physical damage. I was not aware. I just, I snapped. My brain just could not...’ sobbed Sarah Ferguson Thursday morning in Oneida County Court… Dwyer, the same judge who found Ferguson guilty of manslaughter, gang assault and assault with respect to Lucas and Christopher Leonard, sentenced their half-sister to a total of 25 years in prison. Dwyer had acquitted Ferguson on a murder trial she had faced. Victims Lucas and Christopher Leonard’s parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, who are co-defendants in this case, have pleaded guilty. They await sentencing, contingent upon their agreement to testify against the others. Church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, her mother, Traci Irwin, brothers Daniel and Joseph Irwin, along with David and Linda Morey—all church members—still await trial. The tentative trial date for the remaining defendants is October 12.” (WKTV, 09/01/16) 
[IT 8.1, 2017]

Two More Word of Life defendants plead guilty, face 2 Years in jail

“Mother and son defendants in the Word of Life fatal beating case entered guilty pleas on Friday to reduced charges. Traci and Daniel Irwin, originally charged with murder and manslaughter, respectively, each pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful imprisonment; one for 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, who died in the beating inside Word of Life Church in Chadwicks last fall, and one for his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, who survived the assault. The agreed-upon sentence: a total of two years in the Oneida County Jail for each victim, with credit for time served. … Traci Irwin will be sentenced December 5; her son, Daniel Irwin, December 9. Still pending are the cases against church members Linda Morey and her son, David Morey, Pastor Tiffanie Irwin and her brother, Joseph Irwin. The judge said that if any more cases are going to be resolved through pleas, it should happen in the next two weeks.” (WKTV, 10/07/16) [IT 8.1, 2017]
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