Leader of Durham sect receives two life sentences for 2010 killings
Posted July 5, 2013
Durham, N.C. — The leader of a Durham religious sect was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for the 2010 murders of a 4-year-old boy and a woman who tried to leave his group.
Peter Lucas Moses led a polygamist group that lived in a home on Pear Tree Lane in southeast Durham. He took several women as his "wives," and they referred to him as "Lord," according to authorities.
In October 2010, he shot Jadon Higganbothan because he thought the boy was gay and had made an inappropriate gesture toward one of Moses' children.
Two months later, Moses ordered Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy, 28, killed, according to investigators, when he learned she couldn't have children and wanted to leave the group. Three of his followers, Vania Rae Sisk, Lavada Quinzetta Harris and LaRhonda Renee Smith, beat McKoy in a bathroom while religious music played before Sisk shot and killed her.
The two bodies were found in June 2011 buried behind a Durham home where Moses' mother previously lived.
Moses pleaded guilty a year ago to two counts of first-degree murder in order to avoid the death penalty. Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson called the case the worst he's ever seen and handed down two consecutive life sentences.
Hudson also ordered Moses to receive mental health treatment after learning that he tried to commit suicide at least three times, first when he was 10 years old, and was later committed to psychiatric hospitals, where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Yvonne McKoy told Moses in court that he "took something very precious from me" when he ordered the other women to kill her daughter.
"There is not a day I don't think about her," Yvonne McKoy said, adding, "You're not God. You're not God."
"I begged you to let me talk to her. You lied to me. You deceived me. You told me you wanted to marry her, that she was going to be OK," she told Moses. "Where is she now? She's dead.
"There will come a time when I can forgive you, but I haven't gotten to that point yet," she said. "I'm asking God to forgive you."
Moses apologized to her, saying, "I am sorry for what happened to your daughter."
Defense attorney Lisa Miles said the murders weren't a reflection of Moses' character and were only a result of his untreated mental illness. At the time of the murders, she said, Moses was off his medication because his Medicaid benefits had been cut.
"His illness made him do something monstrous. His character will make him atone for that," Miles said.
Sisk, who was Jadon's mother, was sentenced last week to a minimum of 30 years in prison for her role in the deaths of her son and McKoy. Smith was sentenced to at least 24 years in prison for her role in the two deaths.
Harris and Moses' brother, P. Leonard Moses, received shorter sentences after pleading guilty to being accessories after the fact of murder. Harris will serve at least 12 years, while Leonard Moses will serve about five years.
According to court documents, a woman who had left the sect in early 2011 told Durham police about the murders. Police then tracked the group to Colorado, where they had moved, and had Sisk return to Durham to answer questions about her missing son.
Colorado police found a .22-caliber handgun on the roof of a townhouse where the group had been staying. Tests later showed the gun was used to kill both Jadon and McKoy.
During a search of the Pear Tree Lane home, investigators dug a bullet out of a wall that had been patched over and found evidence of human blood and signs that someone had cleaned up in an attempt to hide a crime. Investigators said they also found Pete Moses' fingerprints on the tape securing the trash bags in which the bodies were buried.