Linda Morey and her son, David, will be freed from prison on Thursday, February 27. They are among nine members of the Word of Life Christian Church (WLCC) convicted in the 2015 beating death of one of its members, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, the subject of my book, Without a Prayer.
Facing murder charges, the mother and son agreed to plead guilty to second degree assault against Luke and his brother Christopher, who survived the gang attack, in exchange for a sentence of five years in prison and three years on parole. This is ironic, since Linda will presumably move back in with her husband (David’s father), a former parole officer. At the time of the crime, Steven* [pseudonym] was a senior officer for the New York State Department of Corrections, earning a salary of $90,020 a year. Soon after Lucas was killed and his wife and son arrested, he retired. Steven was a member of the central New York cult early on, but dropped out after a couple of years. His daughter Kathleen*, who is three years older than David, remained a loyal Irwin follower until the very end, and was present the night Luke was killed. Kathleen was babysitting children in a nearby room, as Luke was being beaten. She was never charged in connection with the crime. David will most likely not be allowed to move in with his father, because paroled felons are not allowed to live in the same residence.
Linda Morey believed in physical correction and was known to be abusive. In this audio clip, Linda is heard participating in a “counseling session” of a cult member (there are two soundbites from the same counseling session, edited back-to-back).
Linda worked hard to gain the favor of Tiffanie Irwin, the young preacher who led WLCC, and other members of the Irwin family. She would spend up to eight hours a day on her hands and knees cleaning dog excrement in the cult, which ran a dog-breeding business. David Morey was a virtually silent young man, a follower, who became part of the Irwin clan’s inner circle because he palled around with the Irwin boys who were close to his age.
Luke’s beating by the gang of angry WLCC members turned deadly after Linda handed Luke’s parents a computer cord, encouraging them to whip Luke and Chris. And when Luke’s sister Sarah slashed a hole in his penis, causing blood to pour down his pant leg, Linda mocked the fatally wounded boy by saying, “Oh, little boy peed his pants. He ain’t so tough now.”
During questioning by state police investigators, Linda tried to play herself off as a demure, sweet lady, but investigators didn’t buy it.
At her sentencing, she apologized not to the victim’s family, but to her own.
Linda Morey, 58, served her time at Albion Correctional Facility, a medium security prison west of Rochester. David, who turns 31 years old on March 20, was housed in Cayuga Correctional Facility, southwest of Syracuse. A source close to David says David learned a trade while in prison and will work hard to get a job, that he now has his head straight, is “a really good boy, needs some help and guidance.”
As a condition of their parole, the Moreys will not be allowed to associate with individuals with a criminal history. That means they cannot reunite with any of the former cult members who were also charged in this case, including the victim’s mother, Deborah Leonard, who was released from prison last month.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? [As of February 7, 2020]
Grace Leonard turns 20 years old this month. After the cult imploded, she finally got her wish to attend public school, from which she eventually graduated. Grace was recently seen visiting her sister, Sarah Ferguson, at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. She brought Sarah’s two youngest children to the visit.
Seth* Wright is reported to be MIA in the community. However, he visits Pastor Tiffanie Irwin so regularly in prison that the prison staff knows him by name.
Chris Leonard went into foster care, graduated from Rome Free Academy, and attended college at SUNY Oswego. He is 21 years old.
Kathleen* Morey (defendant Linda Morey’s daughter) went to college (cult members had not been allowed to attend college).
Linda Morey’s husband retired from his job as a parole officer.
Judy Parry, the cult’s oldest member, and one of the most loyal, died last summer.
Jerry Irwin is still dead. Attempts to resurrect him have thus far failed.
The Wrights: In the end, WLCC was made up of three families: the Irwins, the Leonards, and the Wrights (and a handful of members unrelated to anyone else). Some of those members remained loyal to the Irwins through their sentencing and imprisonment. Sources say the Wright siblings, forced apart for decades by the Irwins (even though some lived next door to each other), have recently reunited.
Sarah: I was told by one of Sarah’s close family members that Sarah is no longer talking to Tiffanie Irwin in prison, because Tiffanie won’t tell her what went on the night Luke was killed, after Sarah fell asleep. This indicates that Sarah has deluded herself into thinking someone did something to Luke beyond the out-of-control flogging she delivered him, and that whatever else (supposedly) happened is what ultimately killed him. Last fall, the 37-year-old lost her appeal. She will not be released, earliest, until she is 54 years old.
Traci Irwin lives in the Buffalo area and is remarried. Her new name is Traci Tlustos. On a social media page, she refers to her new husband as the “love of [her] life.” Apparently Jerry wasn’t. Traci has/had been attending college full time, and in 2018 made the Dean’s List at Niagara County Community College. She is reportedly going to school to become a veterinarian (unconfirmed).
Daniel Irwin lives in the Buffalo area. He has a girlfriend, and she is on track for giving birth to his child out of wedlock. This is something that would’ve been unheard of in the cult.
Kristel Leonard and Helen Lehrer divorced their spouses, the result of arranged marriages, and married each other.
Rich Dibble (not a cult member – he’s the Anglican priest who deprogrammed Bruce) continues to visit Bruce in prison, and works on his family’s farm, High Hopes Acres.
Deborah Leonard celebrated her 64th birthday a free woman, having been released from prison last month. She is on parole supervision. None of Debi’s relatives took her in, though they have contact with her. She is reportedly living in a halfway house in Utica, and believes Without a Prayer is a book of lies. Someone mailed Debi a copy of the book to read while she was in prison. Her only comment to this individual was, “It’s a nice picture of Luke.” Debi is in total denial of her actions that resulted in her son’s death. She has not visited her husband in prison, nor will she communicate with him, presumably because he has disowned the cult and has contact with his daughter, Kristel (who is not Debi’s biological daughter).
Bruce Leonard turns 70 this year. He is the only cult member charged in Luke’s death who has been fully deprogrammed, accepts responsibility for his actions, and denounces the cult. He will be in prison four more years.
Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, 34, will be released from prison in six more years.
David Morey, 30, will be freed from prison this month, after serving his full sentence. He will be on parole for three years.
Linda Morey, 58, will be released from prison this month, after serving her full sentence at Albion, a women’s prison northwest of Rochester. She will be on parole for three years.
Joseph Irwin, 26, is serving his time in Attica, a maximum security prison, one of the most brutal in the nation. He will be out in two-and-a-half years.
The Word of Life building was sold last year.
In October of last year, I participated in the burning Tiffanie’s pulpit, and other items of Irwin mind torture that had been in the building. Following the publicized bonfire, someone destroyed Luke’s memorial that relatives and community members put together at the head of the Word of Life building driveway. After public community outrage over it, and calls for an arrest in the crime, someone returned all of the items, dumping them across the fence, in a white trash bag.
Ezekiel*, the youngest Leonard child, is 16 years old.
Jayden* (pseudonym for Debi’s oldest son) has custody of Grace, Ezekiel*, and Sarah’s third child (Noah*).
Sarah’s two oldest children (Gabriel*, Ada*) are living with their biological father. Sarah’s youngest child (Ivy*) is with the child’s paternal grandmother.
Rick Wright’s family held a garage sale at their Clayville home in the fall of 2018. Someone tipped me off that they’d recognized items from the cult at the sale. I went to the sale (unbeknownst to them) and purchased some of those items, including a coffee mug that I later discovered had belonged to Tiffanie. As I was writing the book and drinking from my new mug, I was surprised to see a picture of my mug in a police search warant photo.
[At top is the police photo on my computer monitor. Below is the mug on my desk.]