DURHAM — LaRhonda Renee Smith pleaded guilty Monday to taking part in two 2010 murders that police say involved members of a black-supremacist cult.
Chief Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson sentenced Smith, 28, to a minimum of 23 years and six months and a maximum of 29 years and 10 months in state prison.
Smith could have received almost 119 years in prison on charges of second-degree murder, accessory after the fact of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. The lesser sentences were part of a plea bargain in which Smith agreed to cooperate with authorities and testify in regard to the homicides of 28-year-old Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy and 5-year-old Jadon Higganbothan.
Smith’s attorney, Lisa Anderson Williams, said her client is “extremely remorseful” for her crimes. Williams asked that Smith be moved out of Durham County Jail, where she is held in the same area as two co-defendants in the murders.
Smith’s move to a state prison is “on hold” until she has finished complying with her agreement to cooperate in the other cases, Williams said.
Hudson said he would order her transfer to another facility, but added, “That might require some cooperation from the state and the sheriff.”
Vania Rae Sisk, P. Leonard Moses and Lavada Quinzetta Harris remain in Durham County Jail on charges connected with Jadon and McCoy’s deaths. Peter Lucas Moses Jr., said to have been the cult leader, is serving two consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole for his part in the killings. Moses, who also pledged to cooperate and testify as part of a plea bargain, remains in the Durham County Jail as well.
According to court documents, Moses followed tenets of the “Black Hebrews” sect, which hold that a future race war will leave blacks dominant and supreme. Moses, several female followers and several children lived in a house on Pear Tree Lane in eastern Durham.
Peter Moses, according to prosecutors, fatally shot Jadon in October 2010 after the child slapped another child, who was Smith’s son, on the buttocks. Smith told Moses about the incident. Moses believed Jadon’s father was a homosexual and when Jadon hit the other child, Moses concluded Jadon was homosexual as well.
Smith, according to prosecutors, knew of Jadon’s murder and helped clean up evidence of it; took part in forcibly bringing McCoy back into the Pear Tree Lane house after McCoy tried to leave the group in December; and participated in a discussion with Moses and others, and ultimately a vote, on whether McCoy should be allowed to leave or killed. The vote was to kill McCoy because of her knowledge of the earlier murder.
Jadon’s body was kept at the group’s house in a suitcase for several weeks. After McCoy’s murder, her and Jadon’s bodies were buried behind a house on Ashe Street, where they were discovered in June 2011.