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Sect members plead guilty in Durham murders

Posted June 26, 2013
Updated June 27, 2013

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— Three members of a religious sect pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in the 2010 murders of a woman trying to leave the group and the son of a sect member.

The deaths of 4-year-old Jadon Higganbothan and Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy, 28, shocked the Durham community, where they lived with a group led by Peter Lucas Moses in a home on Pear Tree Lane. Moses took several women as his "wives," and they referred to him as "Lord," according to authorities.

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

She is expected to be sentenced Thursday morning.

Moses' brother, P. Leonard Moses, and Lavada Quinzetta Harris pleaded guilty to being accessories after the fact of murder in McKoy's death, and Harris also pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in Jadon's death. Moses was sentenced to 58 to 79 months in prison, while Harris received a 146- to 194-month prison term.

Pete 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, Harris and LaRhonda Renee Smith helped dispose of the body and clean up after the crime, prosecutors said.

Two months later, Pete 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. Leonard Moses helped hide the body, they said.

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"She has expressed deep regret and deep remorse," Harris' defense attorney said.

"He certainly isn't happy with everything that happened," Daniel Meier, Leonard Moses' defense attorney, said after the hearing. "He didn't really know a lot of what had gone on prior to him being there, and he was still, essentially, maintaining loyalty to his brother."

McKoy's and Jadon's bodies were found two years ago buried behind a house on Ashe Street in Durham where Moses' mother used to live.

Pete Moses pleaded guilty a year ago to two counts of first-degree murder in order to avoid the death penalty. He also is expected to be sentenced Thursday.

Smith was sentenced in February to 23 to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to her roles in both murders.

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

According to court documents, Durham police tracked the group to Colorado, where they moved in early 2011, and had Sisk return to Durham to answer questions about her missing son. A woman who had left the sect told police the boy had been killed.

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.

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.

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