Local News

Two members of suspected Durham cult released from jail

Posted June 15, 2012 8:36 a.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2012 6:13 p.m. EDT

— Two of seven members of a suspected Durham cult were released from jail Thursday after authorities dropped charges against them.

Sheilda Harris and Sheila Moses are the mother and sister of Pete Moses, 27, the leader of the suspected cult who pleaded guilty earlier this week to killing Antoinetta McKoy, 28, and Jadon Higganbothan, 4, in 2010.

Authorities dropped felony accessory after the fact charges against the two women, but it was not clear why.

District Attorney Leon Stanback said Friday he couldn't comment about the dismissals because other cases were pending. However, he said the decision to drop the charges was not part of the plea agreement with Pete Moses.

Jadon's father, Jamiel Higganbothan, said Friday he is OK with the charges being dropped, adding that he thinks authorities "got the people who were directly responsible."

Attorneys for the mother and daughter said they aren't sure why the charges were dismissed, but their clients are pleased with the outcome.

"(Sheilda Harris) is very happy to be free, and she feels justice has been served. She is grateful to the district attorney’s office for doing the right thing," said attorney Elizabeth Koch.

Mani Dexter, who represents Sheila Moses, said, "This is a long time coming, and I'm glad justice is done."

McKoy's and Jadon's bodies were found last June buried behind a house on Ashe Street in Durham where Pete Moses' mother, Sheilda Harris, used to live. Both had been shot in the head, according to autopsy reports.

Prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty against Pete Moses, but they agreed to a sentence of life in prison without parole if he cooperates with investigators and testifies against other sect members. He will be sentenced after their trials.

Jamiel Higganbothan said he was furious that prosecutors went ahead with the plea deal for Pete Moses after he told them he was opposed to the offer of a life sentence.

"Me and my family wanted the death penalty,” Higganbothan said, noting that he initially agreed to the deal but later told prosecutors he had changed his mind.

“I’m really not OK with it at all,” he said of Pete Moses spending his life in prison.

Authorities have said Pete Moses led a religious group of women and children who called him “Lord” and feared him. They lived together in a home on Pear Tree Lane in southeast Durham.

Jadon's mother, Vania Sisk, and two other women who lived with Peter Moses, Larhonda Renee Smith and Lavada Quinzetta Harris, have been charged with murder in McKoy's death and as accessories in Jadon's death.

Pete Moses' brother, P. Leonard Moses, is charged as an accessory in McKoy's death.

A woman who left the group told police that Pete Moses killed Jadon in October 2010 because he thought the child was gay. Prosecutors said in court that Pete Moses became concerned that Jadon had touched one of his sons inappropriately, and they said that he took Jadon to the garage and shot him.

The informant also told police that Pete Moses ordered that McKoy be killed two months later when he learned she couldn't have children and wanted to leave the group. Prosecutors said she was forced back inside the house as she tried to run away and was later killed in a bathroom.