Leader of Durham sect receives two life
sentences for murder
By Anne Blythe - NewsObserver.com
July 5, 2013
DURHAM — As a bailiff led Peter Lucas Moses out of
an emotionally charged Durham County courtroom Friday, the 28-year-old
man lifted up his cuffed hands in a half-wave toward his mother.
Orlando Hudson, the county’s chief resident
Superior Court judge, had just sentenced Moses to two consecutive life
terms without possibility of parole for the 2010 first-degree murders
of a 4-year-old boy and a 28-year-old woman who had been living with
The hearing exposed two warring descriptions of a
At one extreme was Yvonne McKoy, the mother of
Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy, whom Moses – according to testimony – had
ordered killed because she couldn’t have children and wanted to leave
him and the bizarre cast of women who lived with them.
“This man is evil,” Yvonne McKoy told the judge.
Moses’ family and defense attorney were at the
other extreme, portraying him more as a victim of Durham’s mental
health and court systems. Their views suggested that the murders of
Antoinetta McKoy and Jadon Higganbothan, 4, were extreme consequences
of inadequate mental health care. They described Moses as a man
suffering from bi-polar disorder who had stopped taking his medication
after a brush with the law led to an outstanding arrest warrant and
the halt of his disability checks.
“These crimes occurred at a time that Mr. Moses
lost his Medicaid benefits,” said Lisa Miles, the lawyer representing
Moses. “His illness made him do something monstrous. His character
will make him atone for that.”
Moses, who was on medication during the hearing
Friday, listened quietly as McKoy, the mother of his former high
school sweetheart, unleashed a barrage of thoughts and questions about
what happened to her daughter.
Moses and Antoinetta McKoy, reported missing by her
family shortly after her death in December 2010, had talked about
marriage, and she had come to Durham to live with him.
By then, Moses purportedly subscribed to the tenets
of the Black Hebrews, a radical sect that believes a race war is
coming that will leave blacks dominant and supreme. He had patched
together an unusual family at 2109 Pear Tree Lane in southeast Durham.
Women who lived with him, according to court testimony, counted
themselves as wives or common-law wives and often referred to him as
In October 2010, according to testimony, Moses shot
Jadon, a boy living in the house with his mother. Women in the house,
who also were charged criminally in the cases, told investigators that
Moses shot the boy because he thought the child was gay after he
touched the buttocks of one of Moses’ children.
Durham investigators began looking into Moses after
a woman who had lived with him and other women, but left in early
2011, told them about the violence.
According to court testimony, Moses ordered two of
the women to set up computers and speakers in the garage before he
killed Jadon. Prosecutors contended that Moses then took the boy into
the garage, where music and the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew blared, and a
Some of the women cleaned up his bloodied body,
prosecutors have said, then put it in a suitcase in the master bedroom
until Moses complained about the smell.
Two months later, Moses ordered Antoinetta Yvonne
McKoy killed, according to investigators, when he learned she couldn’t
have children and wanted to leave the group.
Antoinetta McKoy kept a diary and, after she found
out she could not have children, wrote in several entries that she
worried that “Lord” might kill her, according to court testimony.
McKoy tried to escape the house right before her
death, according to a neighbor whom investigators interviewed. On one
day in late December, she ran to the neighbor’s house and asked to use
a cellphone to call her mother in Washington.
The neighbor thought the woman was mentally
troubled and had run away from a group home, and did not call police.
The other women came out of the house where McKoy
had been living and wrestled her to the ground, then dragged her back
inside, the neighbor told investigators.
Moses then beat McKoy repeatedly and tried to
strangle her with an extension cord. McKoy, according to the
informant, begged for her life.
The defendant then got the gun that had been used
to kill Jadon, the informant told investigators, and took it to the
Three of Moses’ followers – Vania Rae Sisk, Jadon’s
mother, Lavada Quinzetta Harris and LaRhonda Renee Smith – beat McKoy
in the bathroom while religious music played before Sisk shot and
killed her, according to testimony.
McKoy’s body was kept in a large trash bin inside
the house, according to prosecutors, before it was buried in a shallow
grave alongside the boy’s, at an Ashe Street house where Moses’
parents lived for a time.
Though McKoy had been reported missing by her
family and Jadon had been reported missing by his father, it was not
until June 2011 that the bodies were found.
Sisk was sentenced last week to a minimum of 30
years in prison for her role in the deaths of her son and McKoy.
Smith was sentenced to at least 24 years in prison
for her role in the deaths.
Harris, who pleaded guilty to being an accessory
after the fact of murder, was sentenced to at least 12 years in
prison. Moses’ brother, P. Leonard Moses, also pleaded guilty to being
an accessory after the fact of murder and was sentenced to at least
five years behind bars.
“These are some of the worst cases I’ve ever seen
as a judge,” Hudson said Friday at the conclusion of the hearing.
At the end of it all, two mothers searched for
Moses’ mother and siblings wondered whether a
justice system that takes mental illness into account when weighing
the severity of sentences or a person’s fitness to stand trial had
adequately reviewed the man whose character had been altered without
his medication. Moses pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree
murder a year ago to avoid a trial and risk the possibility of the
death penalty, which prosecutors had held out as a possibility.
Moses, according to his attorney, had been in the
mental health system since he attempted suicide at age 10. He later
was committed to psychiatric facilities, where he was diagnosed with
bi-polar disorder and depression. When he first arrived in the Durham
jail after his arrest in 2011, Moses, according to his lawyer, “was
freaking out all the time.” But after medications were administered
during his incarceration, Moses’ personality was very different.
At the hearing Friday in a seventh-floor Durham
Superior Court room, Moses was calm and seemed remorseful.
Yvonne McKoy, who traveled to Durham from
Washington, was agitated, though.
She wanted to know why Moses had ordered her
daughter killed. She wanted to know why he had not told her the truth
about what happened when she called, frantically hunting for her
daughter. She wanted to know why he had not let Antoinetta return home
when she wanted to leave.
“Why, why, why?” McKoy asked.
“He took something very dear and precious from me,”
McKoy told the court. “She was a good girl, a church girl, a
McKoy spoke alternately to the judge and to Moses.
“There is not a day I don’t think about her,” McKoy
said. “She is resting in God’s arms now. That is the only thing that
gives me closure.”
“There will come a time when I can forgive you, but
I just haven’t gotten to that stage now. … If I don’t forgive you, God
can’t forgive me, and I can’t see my child again. … This is like a
Moses looked at McKoy as she wrapped up her
“I am sorry for what happened to your daughter,” he
October 2010: Jadon Higganbothan, just 4 years old,
is shot in Durham.
December 2010: Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy is killed in
Durham. Her family reports her missing.
February 2011: A young woman escapes from 2109 Pear
Tree Lane, where Moses was living with three women and eight children.
She alerts investigators to the violence.
Investigators go to the house, but find nothing
suspicious. They return after learning that McKoy has been reported
missing. Women in the house, according to investigators, hide Moses in
a bathroom and deny he lives there.
Vania Rae Sisk, Jadon’s mother, tells investigators
she does not have a son named Jadon.
June 2011: The bodies are found.
July 2011: Murder charges are filed.
June 2012: Moses pleads guilty.
July 2013: Moses receives two consecutive life
terms without parole.
Head of polygamous cult pleads guilty to murder
of 4-year-old boy he bizarrely believed was gay
Peter Moses, who also confessed to slaying of
ex-girlfriend in plea deal, avoids death penalty
By Christine Roberts / New York Daily News
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The head of a polygamous cult pleaded guilty Monday
to the murder of a 4-year-old boy he bizarrely believed was gay and an
ex-girlfriend who tried to escape.
Because of a surprise plea deal, Peter Moses, who
led a small sect called the Black Hebrews in Durham, N.C., won't face
the death penalty for the 2010 shootings of Yvonne McKoy, 28, and
Five women lived in the house on Pear Tree Lane
with Moses and considered themselves wives.
“The arrangement was the women would periodically
occupy the master suite,” Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline
Moses was the father of all the children in the
house except for Jadon.
He marked the little boy for death after he decided
his father was gay. When Jadon struck another boy in the buttocks,
Moses concluded it was a sign of the child’s homosexuality, and
decided to “get rid of him,” prosecutors said.
The bipolar cult leader — called “Lord” by his
followers — took the screaming boy into a garage and shot him in the
head with his mother’s gun while speakers blared music with The Lord’s
Prayer in Hebrew, prosecutors charged.
He had members of his harem put the boy’s corpse in
a suitcase and stash it in his suite — until it started to smell.
McKoy was killed in much the same way after she
revealed she couldn’t have kids and wanted to leave the sect, which
preached that blacks will reign supreme after a race war.
After she left the compound to call her mother, she
was dragged back by Moses’ other “wives,” mercilessly beaten and
nearly strangled with an electrical cord.
A witness told authorities that the other women in
the house, led by Jadon’s mother, Vania Sisk, insisted McKoy had to be
killed. They took her into a bathroom, turned on the same music and
Moses then showed off her body at a party, before
the remains were tossed in a trash bin.
The horrors came to light when another woman
escaped the sect and told police two people had been killed in the
home. The bodies were discovered by a plumber in the backyard of house
where Moses’ mother had lived.
Prosecutors said they had intended to seek the
death penalty for Moses, but he will instead face two consecutive life
sentences without possibility of parole because he has agreed to
testify against the six co-defendants in the case.
Cult-like group behaviors come out in court
By Erin Hartness - Wral.com
July 8, 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
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
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,
"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,
"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,
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
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
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
Polygamist sect in North Carolina called Black
Hebrews investigated after two members go missing
By Lukas I. Alpert / New York Daily News
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Police are investigating a small polygamist sect in
North Carolina after two members - one a 5-year-old boy - disappeared.
Investigators believe they were slain by members of
the group, known as the Black Hebrews, but the bodies have yet to be
found and the suspects have gone on the lam.
Court documents reveal that police have evidence
that the missing boy's mother, Vania Sisk, and a man named Peter Moses
Jr. "were directly involved" in the killings, but neither have been
The chilling case began when relatives of
Antoinetta McKoy, 28, reported her missing earlier this year.
"I'm just hoping they find the body so we can know
where to go from there," McKoy's brother-in-law Kevin Shields said.
McKoy had been living with Sisk and Moses in Durham
as part of the group which believes it is one of the ancient tribes of
Israel and practices polygamy.
When cops began looking into McKoy's disappearance,
they discovered that 5-year-old Jadon Higganbotham was missing as
A former sect member later told cops a
Court documents show the one-time member said Moses
had shot the boy in a fit of rage in October and then stashed his body
in a suitcase in the attic.
When it "began to stink," Moses ditched the
suitcase. In February, McKoy was shot and killed by Sisk in a fight
over car keys, the documents revealed. Her body was buried at an
Cops arrested Moses in February on unrelated
charges and he was released on bail. But by the time investigators
developed enough info about the disappearances, both Moses and Sisk