A case that attracted national attention ended Friday when Jackson County prosecutors dropped the murder charge against a man who had confessed to killing his prayer group leader’s wife two years ago.
Micah Moore, now 25, told investigators he had suffocated Bethany Deaton, whose death already had been ruled a suicide. Moore later recanted after being charged with first-degree murder, saying his confession came as a result of an exorcism.
Both Moore and Deaton, 27, had been part of a religious group living together in Grandview and reportedly under the strict command of Deaton’s husband, Tyler Deaton.
Moore’s trial had been set to begin Nov. 17 in Independence.
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“My office concluded that we could not ethically continue to pursue the case given the current evidence against Micah Moore,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Friday in a statement. “The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.”
A park ranger had found Bethany Deaton’s body Oct. 30, 2012, in a vehicle at Longview Lake, a plastic bag over her head and a pill bottle and suicide note at her reach. A week earlier, she had been temporarily admitted to Truman Medical Center after threatening suicide.
Baker said that Moore’s DNA was not found on the bag and that handwriting analysis on the suicide note concluded she had written it. The religious practices of those involved also raised questions regarding their credibility and veracity.
Baker went on to say that Deaton’s death remains a great tragedy and that the decision to drop the charge against Moore was reached after consultation with the woman’s family.
Defense attorney Melanie Morgan said the dismissal marks the end of a stressful ordeal for Moore and his family. His confession three days after the funeral came, she said, as a “reactive psychotic episode” triggered by the suicide of his friend and the realization that he was part of a cult.
She understands the state needed to do its due diligence, but she would have liked the decision to drop the charge to have come sooner.
“It’s been an absolutely awful two years for Micah,” Morgan said Friday.
The real tragedy of the case, however, Morgan said, was that “a young woman with severe depression went untreated, and she was surrounded by people who loved her but didn’t get the help she needed.”
“Micah deeply regrets that his statements, even though retracted quickly and contradicted by the physical evidence, compounded the pain suffered by Ms. Deaton’s family.”
A defense motion filed Oct. 9 noted the absence of Moore’s DNA or fingerprints on Deaton or her vehicle and the handwriting analysis by the FBI on the suicide note.
Baker said her office acted properly in filing the charge against Moore after he confessed to suffocating Deaton. She added that prosecutors will keep the case as an open investigation.
Baker said Deaton was “a talented and gifted young woman whose life ended too soon. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family.”
The Deatons and Moore had been part of a prayer group at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. They and about 20 others moved to Kansas City to be part of the International House of Prayer, also known as IHOP, a church mission that attracts hundreds of young people from around the world.
Court documents tell how the Deaton group lived in communal-type households, with Tyler Deaton controlling everything, including expenses and date night. After the Deatons married in August 2012, they lived in the men’s home with several others, including Moore. Tyler Deaton had sex with the men, according to court documents.
Moore said in his confession that he and other members of the group had engaged in a series of sexual assaults on Bethany Deaton, documents said. He later told detectives that Tyler Deaton told him to kill Bethany, saying, “He knew Micah had it in him to do it.”
IHOP quickly denounced the Deaton group, with president Allen Hood calling it a cult and condemning its “disturbing religious practices.”