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

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.

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DURHAM, N.C. — 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.

"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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