(Photo: Durham County Jail/Handout)
The leader of a Durham, N.C., group claiming affiliation with the Black Hebrew Israelites, viewed by some as a cult, has been given two life sentences for murdering both a 4-year-old boy, whom he shot in the head because he believed he was gay, and one of his common-law wives who had revealed that she could not have children.
"These are some of the worst cases I've ever seen as a judge," declared Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson at the close of the trial involving cult leader Peter Moses Jr. and the women, or wives, who shared his home and called him "lord."
Moses was sentenced in court on Friday after pleading guilty to the 2010 killings of 4-year-old Jadon Higganbothan and 28-year-old Antoinetta McKoy. Prosecutors said Moses shot the boy dead in the garage of his home in front of his mother, Vania Rae Sisk, while a recording of the Lord's Prayer in Hebrew played in the background. He concluded after seeing Higganbothan hit another boy on the buttocks that the toddler was gay. Moses also had McKoy killed by three of his wives when he learned that she could not have children and wanted to leave the sect, according to NewObserver.com.
Sisk, one of the women convicted in McKoy's murder and who prosecutors say pulled the trigger, reportedly helped cover up her own son's death at the hands of Moses, who considered Higganbothan an "abomination," according to prosecutors.
Officials were reportedly alerted about Higganbothan's and McKoy's deaths by a woman who eventually fled the group. The 4-year-old boy had also been reported missing by his father. The victims' bodies were found July 2011 in plastic bags buried in the backyard of a home in Durham where Moses' mother had lived.
Sisk was sentenced to 30 years in prison, while the two women who pleaded guilty to being accessories after the fact of murder received 12 years each. Moses' brother also pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact of murder and was given five years in prison.
It was revealed at court that Moses' previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder likely played a part in the violence that occurred, and reported that he had been receiving treatment while detained in the Durham County Jail. Moses apologized to McKoy's mother in court on Friday, saying, "I'm sorry ma'am for your daughter."
"She was a good girl, a church girl, a God-fearing girl," Yvonne McKoy told Judge Hudson of her 28-year-old daughter, at one point calling Moses "evil."
The grieving mother added, "There is not a day I don't think about her. 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 nightmare."
Another local news report quoted McKoy as saying, "That's the only thing that gives me closure is to know that she knew God herself cause this is something that I never dreamt I would deal with, never."
She added after court, "I could really choke him. But you know, that was just a little bit of anger. But I looked at him with more hurt than anything because I couldn't believe — this is like a nightmare, really and truly — that he would be so deceitful. I felt a little cold and a little bitter. But the compassion inside of me said 'Yvonne, you're a Christian.'"
According to Moses' attorneys, the crimes occurred after their client lost his Medicaid benefits and his untreated illness "made him do something monstrous."
The Black Hebrew Israelites group Moses affiliated himself with is also referred to as Black Hebrews or Hebrew Israelites, and its adherents teach that they are direct descendants of the ancient Israelites. There are numerous sub-sects and independent splinter groups with no central governing body, according to the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, which reports that possible adherents range anywhere from 40,000-200,000. The sect's race-based teachings, as well as their views on Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and aspects of the afterlife put them at odds with traditional Christian teachings.