Right about now, Micah Moore appears to be looking for a do-over.
Outside of the Jackson County Courthouse after his appearance this week on charges that he murdered a member of his prayer group in Kansas City, Mo., last month, Moore’s defense attorney, Melanie Morgan, insisted the 23-year-old didn’t mean it when he confessed to killing 27-year-old Bethany Deaton. He told a “fictional account that was bizarre, nonsensical, and most importantly, untrue,” Morgan said.
It was certainly bizarre, a sordid tragedy that has rocked an obscure religious community whose members were enrolled in the International House of Prayer, a Christian missionary organization. In the process, it has drawn questions about whether a small but destructive faction may have been hiding in Kansas City.
Officials in Jackson County had ruled Deaton’s Oct. 30 death a suicide after she turned up dead in a Ford Windstar in a local park called Longview Lake. Her body was slumped over in the rear seat, a trash bag over her head, sucked into her mouth, with a note on the center console that read, “My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn’t be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that?”
There was an empty bottle of acetaminophen in the cup holder, two pillows, a roll of duct tape and another white plastic trash bag in the van, according to a probable cause statement reviewed by The Daily Beast.
But then, 10 days after the body was discovered, Micah Moore drove with several other members of his prayer group to the sheriff’s office, with a confession.
Little is known about the prayer group, other than that Tyler Deaton, Bethany’s husband, was the spiritual leader and some, if not all, members lived together in the same household. The president of the International House of Prayer said in a statement that Deaton's group was independent and operated under a “veil of secrecy,” though he acknowledged its members did attend a school operated by IHOP.
In his confession, Moore told detectives that Deaton told him to kill Bethany. Moore also said in his confession that he and several other men who all lived in the same apartment complex in Kansas City had been sexually assaulting Bethany repeatedly over the past several months and were afraid she would rat them out to her therapist. It’s unclear whether Moore alleges that Deaton was among the assaulters.
Moore “admitted to being at Longview Lake with Bethany Deaton,” according to the probable cause statement, “and said he placed a bag over her head and held it there until her body shook.”
Moore told detectives that Bethany had been given a prescription anti-psychotic drug, Soroquel, during the alleged sexual assaults and on the day of her murder. He said Tyler told him to kill her because he “knew Micah had it in him to do it.” Tyler Deaton has not been charged with any crime, and he didn’t respond to attempts to reach him via Facebook and his father’s insurance office in Texas. It’s unclear where he is now.
People who know Moore, including some of his roommates, corroborated some elements of Moore’s statement.
International House of Prayer Pastor Shelly Hundley said Moore told her about the alleged sexual assaults, and told her that he had video evidence on his iPad. He told her she could find the iPad in a blue backpack at the apartment he shared with the Deatons.
The Deatons’ other roommates told police of alleged secret sexual relationships for Tyler to “discover his masculinity,” because he was “frustrated” that he “couldn’t get an erection” with his wife, according to the probable cause statement. One member of the community said he was lying in bed once, and that “Tyler had laid next to him and held him,” according to the court document. “He stated that he realized now that Tyler was attempting to make him a member of their sexual group.” Another said in the statement that “he was involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with (Tyler) Deaton,” who was “controlling and manipulative and (Tyler) said that the sexual activity was part of a ‘religious experience.’”
Another, who also said in his statements to police that he was in a sexual relationship with Tyler Deaton, called Deaton the household’s “spiritual leader” who had control over its members. In the weeks prior to his wife’s death, Deaton was “angry” and “frustrated,” the witness said, and he “stated to him that he had a dream that he had killed his wife by suffocating her.”
Moore now faces charges of first-degree murder. His attorney insists her client didn’t do it.
“We are aware of no evidence that a crime has occurred,” Morgan said outside the courthouse on Wednesday. Her client’s statements were those of “a distraught and confused young man under extreme psychological pressures, as a result of his friend Bethany’s untimely suicide, and the sudden removal of his spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton, from their extremely close-knit religious community.”
Doctrines taught in that community “affected Micah’s mental state and ultimately dominated his thinking,” she continued. “We trust that the local authorities will focus their investigation equally into disproving Micah’s story as much as they would be inclined to trying to substantiate it.”
Morgan didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Jackson County prosecutor’s office spokesman Michael Mansur told The Daily Beast that the investigation is ongoing. He didn’t say whether Deaton is under investigation, but that the crime could "potentially involve many individuals close to the victim." He also said Morgan’s attempt to recant her client’s confession “hasn’t changed anything. We had probable cause to file the case.”
Investigators are now awaiting the results of Bethany Deaton’s blood toxicity tests, Mansur said, to determine what was in her system when she died, which could either corroborate or refute a key piece of Moore’s original story. Mansur said he wasn’t sure whether the autopsy recently performed happened before or after Moore’s confession.
Whether Tyler Deaton figures in the case depends hugely on those autopsy results, said Meg Strickler, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney who has been following the case in the news, but is not directly involved in it.
Key for the prosecution in this case is to “indict early,” she said. If they also wanted to bring a case against Deaton, Strickler recommended that they arrest him — quickly — to show the other witnesses that they’re serious about justice and to put pressure on all involved. If the autopsy results back up Moore’s original statements, recanting won’t make much of a difference, Strickler told The Daily Beast. “If it’s corroborated,” she speculated, Moore’s “ship is sunk.”
Seattle defense attorney Richard Hansen, who also has been watching the case, called Moore’s confession problematic for the defense.
“Everyone involved in this story has serious credibility problems,” Hansen told The Daily Beast. “Especially Tyler Deaton’s accuser, Micah Moore. He admits to having sex with Deaton’s wife, which gives him the greater motive to commit murder, not Tyler. And as a confessed killer, any attempt to blame someone else, as in ‘the devil made me do it,’ must be viewed with skepticism.”
Prosecuting an accomplice to a crime requires that the accused “has to encourage, solicit, command, assist or be ready to assist the principal,” said King County prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg, who has been following the case. “There has to be an agreement on what crime is to be committed, before the act.”
It’d be tough to bring charges against any accomplice without evidence showing that “explicit communication between an accomplice and the principal occurred prior to the crime,” Satterberg told The Daily Beast, “and giving some deal to the killer to testify against the accomplice is generally not an avenue prosecutors would explore.”
That said, the law doesn’t require an accomplice to actually be at the scene of the crime, said Rick Ross, founder of the New Jersey-based Rick Ross Institute, which investigates cults around the world.
“Charles Manson was convicted of murder even though he was not at the scene of the crime and did not physically participate in the murders,” Ross told The Daily Beast. “Manson was convicted on the basis of his influence and as a conspirator.”
The prosecution’s successful theory in the Manson case was that “his control over his followers was so complete that he essentially used them as his weapon of choice,” Ross said. “The same situation may be true regarding Deaton.”