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Mom gets at least 30 years in prison for sect killings of son, woman

Posted June 27, 2013

— A Durham woman was sentenced Thursday to at least 30 years in prison for helping conceal her son's murder and for killing another member of the religious sect to which she belonged.

Vania Rae Sisk pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy and to being an accessory after the fact of murder in the death Jadon Higganbothan, who was Sisk's 4-year-old son.

She received a sentence of 180 to 225 months for the murder and accessory charges and a consecutive sentence of 180 to 225 months on the kidnapping and conspiracy charges.

Sisk and McKoy, 28, were members of a sect that lived in a home on Pear Tree Lane in southeast Durham. The group was led by Peter Lucas Moses, and authorities said Moses took several women as his "wives," and they lived in fear of him and referred to him as "Lord."

Moses shot Jadon in the head in October 2010 because he thought the boy was gay and had made an inappropriate gesture toward one of Moses' children.

Sisk and two other sect members, Lavada Quinzetta Harris and LaRhonda Renee Smith, helped dispose of the body and clean up after the crime, prosecutors said.

Two months later, Moses ordered McKoy killed, according to investigators, when he learned she couldn't have children and wanted to leave the group.

Sisk, Harris and Smith beat McKoy in a bathroom while religious music played before Sisk shot and killed her, prosecutors said.

Defense attorney Michael Driver blamed Moses for Sisk's actions, saying he treated women like possessions and demanded they submit to his will.

"Like other cult leaders, he was able to exert a level of control over his followers," Driver said. "The women in the house were not able to think for themselves."

Jadon's father, Jamiel Higganbothan, said there was no excuse for his ex-wife's actions.

"No matter how scared, no matter what it was, there could’ve been something done," Higganbothan said.

Yvonne McKoy said dealing with her daughter's murder has been a nightmare.

"My daughter begged for her life, and upon her begging, it was taken in such a heinous way. I don’t understand that," Yvonne McKoy said. "No amount of time could ever bring her back. No amount of time that you give to these people could ever replace the pain that I will endure for the rest of my life."

Antoinetta McKoy's sister, Janayia Dubois, said Sisk's sentence wasn't enough, calling her "a monster."

"I have no remorse for a mother who will lie," Dubois said. "She should be ashamed as a mother and as a human being."

Defendant gives tearful apology

Smith, who pleaded guilty in February to her roles in both murders, tearfully apologized Thursday to Higganbothan and McKoy's family before she was sentenced to 23 to 29 years in prison.

"I really am sorry. I just wish I would’ve been able to get out of that situation a long time ago, but I know I wasn’t strong enough. I was by myself down here," Smith said, calling Antoinetta McKoy her only friend in the sect.

LaRhonda Smith Murder cases bring tears from defendant, victim's relatives

"She treated my kids like they were her own," she said.

Yvonne McKoy said Smith's remorse touched her, but Dubois said it was too little, too late.

"Your crying is not going to bring her back," Dubois told her.

According to court documents, a woman who had left the sect told Durham police in early 2011 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.

During a subsequent 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.

McKoy's and Jadon's bodies were in June 2011 buried behind a house on Ashe Street in Durham where Moses' mother used to live.

Colorado police found a .22-caliber handgun on the roof of a townhouse where the group had been staying. Tests showed the gun was used to kill both Jadon and McKoy. Durham investigators said they also found Moses' fingerprints on the tape securing the trash bags in which the bodies were buried.

Moses pleaded guilty a year ago to two counts of first-degree murder in order to avoid the death penalty. He was to be sentenced Thursday, but that was rescheduled to next Friday because his attorney was out of town.

"I wouldn't miss the day he gets his sentence. I have to be here," Higganbothan said. "Nothing is never going to be enough as far as what they did."

"I definitely have some things to say this to this gentleman that I want to stick in his head when they close that cell," Yvonne McKoy said.

Harris was sentenced Wednesday to about 12 to 16 years after pleading guilty. Moses' brother, P. Leonard Moses, also pleaded guilty Wednesday to helping conceal McKoy's death and was sentenced to 58 to 79 months in prison.

Accessory charges against the mother and sister of Pete and Leonard Moses were dropped last year.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jul 1, 2013

    This story has the word "sect" in the title.

    Is there really a problem asking why some people use "sect" or "cult" and other people use "denomination" or "religion"?

    In fact, these people were way more serious about following the Bible than most other folks. When the Bible tells them to do something, they did it. Most folks don't...or they'd be in jail right next to these people.

  • Lightfoot3 Jun 28, 2013

    30 years? Apparently her lawyer isn't as good as the ones in the other stories, like the 7 years (with 3 already served) for the bag of bones dude.

  • soapbox Jun 27, 2013

    @kdcg - Sisk was charged with 2nd degree murder which carries a lighter penalty than 1st. Your comparison with Manson would help Sisk, since Moses is the Manson character in this scenario.

    @signofthetimes - Are you kidding? The Bible calls for the death penalty for all sorts of "crimes" like breaking the Sabbath, being a medium or spiritualist, cursing your parents, being a drunkard, adultery, lying about being a virgin, being a victim of rape if you are a virgin and engaged and the rape takes place inside city limits, and on and on and on. According to this list: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Actions_punishable_by_death_in_the_Old_Testament none of us could be called "innocent". Right or wrong, whether you agree or not, anyone can rationalize their actions based on the Bible.

  • oleguy Jun 27, 2013

    30 years is UN acceptable for Murder,,
    An Eye for an eye,,,

  • kdcg Jun 27, 2013

    Sisk should have received at least a life sentence for her role in the woman's murder alone. You don't actually have to be the person who commits the murder to be convicted of it. Charles Manson was never convicted of ever having actually killed anyone, yet he was originally given the death penalty for his role.

  • dontstopnow Jun 27, 2013

    Nothing justifies the murder of innocent people, nothing! I try to live by the Bible, but even the Bible does not say to murder innocent people. So those of you slamming the Bible, need to read and understand it before you have much more to say about it. Of course, I think judgment day will sort all this out anyway.

  • soapbox Jun 27, 2013

    @NotUrTypicalAmerican - I'd like to think that religious teachings make us better human beings, but the sad truth is that anyone can justify their actions based on some verse of some book in their particular missive from their particular God.

    I dare say that some of the posters here who decry the murder of this child "because he [Moses] thought the boy was gay and had made an inappropriate gesture toward one of Moses' children" would turn right around and call for the blood of any other presumed homosexual based on their assumptions about gays being child molesters. Their justification? "It's in the Bible".

  • trueblue0100 Jun 27, 2013

    Correction: Sisk did kill McKoy. Second degree murder charges indicate that there were mitigating circumstances, such as she was acting under duress. But she did not kill her son.

    Moses - the cult leader has not been sentenced yet. Save your outrage until we hear what his punishment will be.....soapbox

    I'll bet you a dollar to a dime that he gets life or less. He needs to be tied to a wall and stoned over a ten day period if he survives that long. Moses is nothing more than an animal and should be treated as such. He killed a 4-year old because he thought that the child made a homosexual gesture to one of his children. A 4-year old doesn't have any concept as to what straight/gays even means? What a totally ridiculous excuse!

  • soapbox Jun 27, 2013

    Correction: Sisk did kill McKoy. Second degree murder charges indicate that there were mitigating circumstances, such as she was acting under duress. But she did not kill her son.

    Moses - the cult leader has not been sentenced yet. Save your outrage until we hear what his punishment will be.

  • NotUrTypicalAmerican Jun 27, 2013

    People can and will justify anything in the name of religion. -soapbox

    That's true, however, it seems as if you premise your opinion as if those who commit crimes in the name of a religion actually know and practice what the religion truly teaches.