Cult-like group behaviors come out in court
Posted July 8, 2011
Updated October 18, 2011
Durham, N.C. — Prosecutors laid out the case Friday against a Durham man charged with killing a 4-year-old boy and 28-year-old-woman, saying he led a “religious” group of women and children who called him “Lord” and feared him.
Peter Lucas Moses, 27, faces first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Jadon Higganbothan, 4, and Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy, 28. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against him. Defense attorneys didn't speak in his behalf at a court hearing Friday.
Prosecutors said Moses killed Jadon because he thought the child was gay and McKoy after he learned she couldn't have children and wanted to leave the group.
Prosecutors said the case came to police's attention in February when a young woman escaped from a house at 2109 Pear Tree Lane house, where she had lived with McKoy, Jadon, eight other children and three women charged in connection with the two slayings – Jadon's mother, Vania Rae Sisk, 25, Lavada Quinzetta Harris, 40, and Larhonda Renee Smith, 27.
The woman, whose identity wasn't released, told police that two people had died at the house, Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline said. Court records have revealed that Durham police had a confidential informant in the case.
The women counted themselves as Moses' "wives or common-law wives," Cline said.
"The arrangement was the women would periodically occupy the master suite with" Moses, Cline said, adding that she wouldn't go so far as to say the group was a cult.
Living with them, all in one were room, were Sisk's four children and Lavada Harris' five children, prosecutors said. Moses is the father of all the children, except for Jadon.
Witness told police of child's death
Moses feared that Jadon might be gay because his father had left Sisk, and Moses told her to "get rid" of the child, prosecutors said.
"In the religious belief of that organization, homosexuality was frowned on," Cline said.
Sometime in October 2010, Smith told Moses that Jadon had hit another child's bottom, and Moses became angry and started walking around the house with a gun that belonged to Sisk, prosecutors said.
"He starts screaming, 'I told you to get rid of him!'" and told Sisk, "'How am I going to do this?'" Cline recalled the witness' account.
Moses ordered two of the women to set up computers and speakers in the garage, prosecutors said they were told by the witness. They said he started playing music with the Lord's Prayer in Hebrew, took Jadon in the garage and shut the door, and the women then heard a gunshot.
Prosecutors said the witness told them that the women helped clean up the body of Jadon, who had been shot in the head, and put it in a suitcase in Moses' master suite. He later told them to get the body out because it was beginning to smell, prosecutors said.
The other children, who have been placed in foster homes by Social Services, have told authorities they feared that Moses would do to them "what he did to Jadon," Cline said. "The children are fearful of Pete Moses Jr."
Prosecutors: McKoy killed after beating
Moses killed McKoy in a similar manner on Dec. 21 or 22, 2010, prosecutors said.
Family members said that Moses encouraged McKoy, whom he had known as a teenager, to join him and that after she left, they didn't hear from her again.
McKoy found that she couldn't have children and wrote dairy entries begging "Lord" not to kill her, prosecutors said.
On the day she died, prosecutors said, McKoy ran to a neighbor's house and asked to use a cell phone to call her mother in Washington, D.C. The neighbor said she didn't call police because she thought that it was a group home and that McKoy might be mentally disturbed.
Prosecutors said the neighbor told them that the other women came out of the house, and Moses struggled with McKoy and dragged her back inside.
Moses beat her throughout most of the day, with the women joining in at least once, and tried to strangle her with an extension cord, according to the witness.
The witness described how McKoy begged for her life, but Sisk got the gun Moses used to kill Jadon and took it to the bathroom, prosecutors said. The women told Moses "you cannot let her go" and said they feared him going to jail, Cline said.
They turned on the same music in the bathroom and took McKoy in there, prosecutors said. Sisk shot McKoy several times, killing her, they said.
The group threw a party a few days later, prosecutors recalled the witness saying, and Moses showed McKoy's body to several relatives, including his mother Sheilda Evelyn Harris, 56, his brother P. Leonard Moses, 21, and his sister, Sheila Falisha Moses, 20.
McKoy's body was also kept in the house for some time, taped up inside black garbage bags placed in a garbage bin, prosecutors said the witness told them.
Later, Jadon and McKoy's bodies were buried in the backyard of a house at 2622 Ashe St., where Moses' mother lived until early this year, prosecutors said. Plumbers led police to discover the remains in June.
Prosecutors said that police found .22-caliber shell casings and a projectile and blood in the garage and master bathroom of the Pear Tree Lane home. They also found a .22-caliber gun on the roof of a Colorado townhouse, where the group moved in February, prosecutors said.
Women face charges linked to deaths
Sisk, Lavada Harris and Smith face first-degree murder charges in McKoy's death and as accessories in Jadon's death. Police said two of the women are pregnant.
Sheilda Harris, P. Leonard Moses and Sheila Moses are also charged as accessories in McKoy's death.
Sheila Moses and Sheilda Harris were granted a $500,000 secured bond at Friday's court hearing.
Defense attorney Mani Dexter said that prosecutor's case against Sheila Moses is based on one person's word and that she's trying to get custody of her children back from Social Services.
Prosecutors said that police went to the Pear Tree Lane house in February but found nothing suspicious. They went again when they received word that McKoy's family had reported her missing in D.C. in December.
Then, the women denied that Moses lived there, but officers found him hiding in a bathroom cabinet, prosecutors said.
Cline said the suspects told contradictory stories about what happened to McKoy: One woman said she didn't know what happened, another said that McKoy planned to move in but didn't, and Moses said that McKoy got mad about money and left.
Sisk did not acknowledge having a 4-year-old child named Jadon, and police only verified his existence because of Social Services reports, Cline said. The children were homeschooled.
McKoy's mother, Yvonne McKoy, said Friday that she is still numb and can't believe her daughter is gone.
“I’m just grateful to God that justice has been served and God is going to do what God is going to do," Yvonne McKoy said.