First degree manslaughter in New York is punishable by a sentence of five to 25 years. The felony charges involve accusations that a person, with intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, causes the death of such person. Serious physical injury under the state's Penal Law is defined as physical injury that results in death or creates a substantial risk of death.
One of the more bizarre cases of alleged manslaughter occurred in the past few days when church members of the Word of Life Christian Church were charged in the beating death of a 19-year-old man. The victim reportedly died from a severe beating inflicted on him inside the church by church members. Among those arrested were the victim's parents, both of whom were taken into custody on first degree manslaughter charges.
The victim's 17-year-old brother was later found badly beaten elsewhere in the church building. He remains hospitalized with serious injuries. Authorities say that on the evening of Oct. 11, the two teenagers were called into a sanctuary and beaten with the demand that they confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness. The nature of those claimed sins are currently unknown.
In addition to the charges of manslaughter against the parents, four other church members were arrested on felony assault charges. One of those suspects was the 33-year-old half-sister of the victims. Authorities suggested that there would be more arrests.
Defending someone on felony charges in a cult-like situation where physical injury and death are involved is a challenging and complex matter. In this case, the authorities are not claiming that the participants intended to kill the victims but, instead, that they wanted to inflict serious physical injury. Some of the defendants may be able to assert a defense relating to intense brain washing imposed by cult leaders, resulting in the loss of their ability to distinguish right from wrong. Additionally, some of the defendants may have participated only peripherally or as spectators, which may be a possible defense. Each defendant will benefit by immediate consultation with an attorney who is experienced in New York criminal defense work.
Source: The New York Times, "Glimpses Inside Secretive Sect After Killing at Upstate New York Church", Jessie McKinley and Benjamin Mueller, Oct. 14, 2015