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

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
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
"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.