Micah Moore’s confession in the death of Bethany Ann Deaton, the new wife of his spiritual leader Tyler Deaton, was a fiction born from a fragile mental state, his lawyer said Wednesday.
“We are aware of no evidence that a crime has occurred,” said attorney Melanie S. Morgan, reading a statement after a brief court hearing. “The facts suggest Bethany Deaton’s death was an unfortunate suicide and Micah Moore had nothing to do with that suicide.
“Driven to the police station by representatives of his church community, Micah told a fictional account that was bizarre, nonsensical and most importantly, untrue. They were the figments 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.”
Ten days after her body was found in late October, Moore, 23, walked into Grandview police headquarters and told officers that he had killed the 27-year-old woman at the order of Tyler Deaton, according to court documents.
Moore said then that he and other men who were members of Tyler Deaton’s religious community and who shared the Deatons’ home had drugged and sexually assaulted Bethany Deaton over several months. She was killed because they feared she was going to tell her therapist, Moore said.
Not so, his lawyer said Wednesday.
“The doctrines taught in that community affected Micah’s mental state and, unfortunately, dominated his thinking,” Morgan said. “Micah’s fiction to the police led to the filing of the complaint in this case.”
Morgan said her references to Tyler Deaton’s church community were to his prayer group and not to the International House of Prayer.
Members of Deaton’s group, who found each other at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, had migrated to Kansas City to participate in the International House of Prayer, an “end times”-focused evangelical mission base that has drawn thousands of young people from all over the world. The organization has issued statements seeking to distance itself from Deaton and his group.
Deaton has not been charged in his wife’s death. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has said he and others in the group are under investigation.
Morgan had requested a preliminary hearing for Wednesday afternoon, but prosecutors asked for and received a continuance from Jackson County Associate Circuit Judge Jeffrey Bushur. The next hearing in Moore’s case was scheduled for Jan. 17.
Michael Mansur, spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office, said after Wednesday’s hearing that a grand jury indictment would be sought against Moore. He said that was a common practice in first-degree murder cases.
Mansur declined to comment on the specifics of Morgan’s statement.
Micah Moore’s father, aunt and two uncles from Texas, his home state, attended the hearing. They declined to comment afterward.
Attempts to reach Bethany’s family and Tyler Deaton on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Morgan said she hoped authorities would be as vigilant to disprove her client’s story as they were to substantiate it.
“In the end, the truth will show that Micah Moore is innocent,” she said.
Sean O’Brien, a veteran defense attorney and University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, said it is not uncommon for a defendant in a murder case to recant a confession. O’Brien said the courts have become skeptical of some confessions, in part because of the way they were obtained by investigators.
Earlier this month, a Missouri inmate who had served nearly 30 years for a rape and murder was released from prison after a judge ruled that St. Louis police hid or destroyed evidence and misled the mentally ill man to falsely confess. “Not every recantation is truthful, just like we know for fact that not every recantation is false, either,” O’Brien said.
It is possible defense attorneys in the Moore case sought to change the public perception that prosecutors had an open-and-shut case, he said.
“My assumption is the lawyers decided they want to set the record straight sooner rather than later,” O’Brien said.
Bethany Deaton’s body was found the night of Oct. 30 in the back seat of a van parked at Longview Lake. A white plastic bag was over her head, and an empty 100-count bottle of acetaminophen PM was in a cup holder.
A small notepad on the console of the van had an apparent suicide note: “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? I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will still save me.”
Authorities concluded that she had killed herself. Tyler Deaton spoke at a service for her Nov. 6 in Kansas City. A second funeral was held Nov. 9 in Arlington, Texas.
That was the day Moore went to Grandview police. He told detectives that he was with Bethany Deaton at Longview Lake and that he “placed a bag over her head and held it there until her body shook,” according to a detective’s statement.
Authorities had her body returned to Kansas City for an autopsy. They are still awaiting results, Mansur said.
Court documents filed to support the first-degree murder charge against Moore include statements from several men who told investigators that they had been roommates with the Deatons. Those witnesses’ names were redacted.
Three of the men told detectives that they were involved in long-term sexual relationships with Deaton that were kept secret from his wife, whom he married in August.
One of the witnesses described “Deaton’s behavior ... as ‘angry’ (and) ‘frustrated’ ” in the weeks before Bethany Deaton’s death and said Tyler Deaton had told him three days after her body was found that “he had a dream that he had killed his wife by suffocating her.”
Morgan declined to comment on the other group members’ statements.