Women sentenced in Black Hebrew murder cases
Vania Sisk stared straight ahead as the sister of Antoinetta McKoy, the woman she shot and killed, called her a monster Thursday in Durham County Criminal Superior Court.
"You're a monster," said Janayia Dubose. "We're looking at a monster here in the courtroom."
All but the leader of the so-called "Black Hebrews" cult, Pete Moses, have pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their part in the murders of 4-year-old Jadon Higganbothan and 29-year-old Antoinetta McKoy that occurred while Moses and five or six women and their children lived together in a polygamous household in Durham in 2010 and 2011.
On Wednesday, Sisk pleaded guilty to four charges, including second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, accessory after the fact to murder and first-degree kidnapping. On Thursday, she was sentenced to a total of 30 to 37 years and six months in prison.
Her co-defendant, Larhonda Smith, had previously pleaded guilty to the same charges, and she was sentenced Thursday to 23 years and six months to 29 years and 10 months in prison.
Pete Moses was scheduled to appear in court for his sentencing hearing Thursday, but his attorney had a conflict. He will appear in court when the attorney is available, but no definite time has been scheduled for that appearance.
Durham County Assistant District Attorney Dale Morrill again recounted some of the details of the crimes. Moses shot and killed Jadon in October 2010 after Smith told him the little boy had done something inappropriate to one of her children.
McKoy was shot and killed several months later in the same home on Pear Tree Lane after she tried to run out of the house to call her mother to go home. Sisk and Smith ran out after her, took her back inside the home, beat her and along with Moses, decided she had to die. Sisk had the gun in her hand and she pulled the trigger and killed McKoy.
Sisk's attorney, Michael Driver, placed the blame for what happened on Moses.
"Like other cult leaders, he was able to exert a level of control over his followers that is difficult if not impossible for people outside the group to understand," he said.
The women in the household worked, and turned their paychecks over to Moses, he said.
"Pete Moses set himself up as a king, as a tyrant ruling over everybody in that house," Driver said.
While the women worked, he stayed home, drank and posted videos of himself on the Internet in which he talked about his views toward women, Jews and homosexuals, Driver said.
In one video, he said he wished Hitler had finished the job and killed all the "fake Jews," Driver said.
He also said that as head of his kingdom, he could rape women, and that proud women were going to burn, Driver said.
He also asked how a man could multiply with just one woman, and said men possess women like they possess clothes or a dog, Driver said.
Driver said it wasn't an excuse for Sisk's behavior, but an explanation of how and why she made the decisions she made.
A witness from the house told police that after Moses shot and killed Sisk's son, Jadon, he told everyone in the house that if they went to police, he would kill them.
Sisk cried all day and stayed to herself for the rest of the week after Moses killed her son, Driver said.
"Something inside of this woman broke," he said. "Something inside of her just died."
She was pregnant at the time of Jadon's murder and gave birth to a child by Moses a month or so later. She had several other children with Moses, but Jadon was not Moses' son.
Jadon's father, Jamiel Higganbothan, who flew in from Colorado Springs to attend the hearing, said he couldn't understand how a mother could have allowed her child to be shot and killed.
"There's no excuse at all," he said.
Dubose also spoke about Sisk, asking how she could have lied about her own child's murder.
"She should be ashamed as a mother and a human being to allow that to happen to her child," Dubose said.
McKoy's mother, Yvonne McKoy, said she believed the 30-year sentence of the plea bargain was not enough for Sisk.
"Once she had the gun in her hand, why didn't she turn the gun on him if he was that bad," she said referring to Moses.
Sisk stared straight ahead throughout the hearing, and she did not offer an apology directly or through her attorney to the victim's families.
Smith, who had six children with Moses, did stand and turned toward the families in the gallery and offered her apology. She cried and wiped tears from her eyes as she tried to speak.
"I really am sorry," she said, adding she was not strong enough to leave Moses or stand up to him."
Her attorney, Lisa Williams, said it was one of the worst cases Durham has ever seen.
"Hopefully there will never be a case like this," she said. "It's truly one of the saddest things I've ever seen."