Forensic Expert to Aid In Review of Evidence In Children's Deaths

Banita Jacks is accused of killing her four daughters, whose bodies were found Jan. 9 in her rowhouse.
Banita Jacks is accused of killing her four daughters, whose bodies were found Jan. 9 in her rowhouse. (Associated Press)
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By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008

Prosecutors are still interviewing witnesses and have recruited a forensic anthropologist to assist in the case against Banita Jacks, a Southeast Washington woman accused of killing her four daughters, they said yesterday.

At a hearing in D.C. Superior Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines said prosecutors have interviewed a "substantial" number of witnesses since Jacks was arrested Jan. 9, after the bodies were found that day in her rowhouse on Sixth Street SE. Sines said they need to get accounts from other people. A grand jury has been reviewing the case.

Authorities have been unable to pinpoint when or how the children died, but they estimate that the deaths occurred months before the bodies were found by deputy marshals serving an eviction notice at the home. Sines said the forensic anthropologist will work with the chief medical examiner in reviewing physical evidence found at the scene, including a knife found near the body of the eldest child, Brittany, 16.

The forensic specialist is also examining T-shirts found on the bodies of the other girls, ages 5, 6 and 11, and near Brittany's body, Sines said. The FBI is assisting in the investigation.

Jacks, 33, has been in jail without bond on murder charges. She has told police that the children were possessed by demons and that they died in their sleep, authorities have said. Police have said that no one had reported seeing the children since spring or summer. The bodies are at the D.C. medical examiner's office.

Several family members attended the hearing yesterday but declined to comment.

Peter L. Scherr, who is representing Jessie Fogle, grandmother of the two youngest children, said relatives were waiting to hear from Jacks's public defenders about burial arrangements. Fogle and Jacks's mother, Mamie Jacks, have filed notice of intent to pursue claims against the city government for failing to prevent months of neglect and abuse of the children.

Kim Brooks-Rodney, an attorney for Brittany's father, Norman C. Penn Jr., said Penn planned to file a civil suit against the District next week. In a statement, Penn said he holds the city accountable for his daughter's death.

"I want to know why the D.C. government did not work more diligently to find out if my daughter and her sisters were in a safe environment," Penn said.

Brooks-Rodney said she did not know when her client had last seen his daughter.

Judge Frederick H. Weisberg set a follow-up hearing in the criminal case for June 13. Sines said she hopes to have an indictment from the grand jury by then.

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