Mental Evaluation Ordered for Mom Accused of Killing Girls

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 4, 2008

A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered a mental evaluation yesterday of a Southeast woman accused of killing her four daughters and living with their bodies for months.

Judge Frederick H. Weisberg ordered the evaluation of Banita Jacks, 33, to determine whether she is competent to stand trial after her attorneys said she has refused to meet with them to discuss the matter.

Jacks told the judge that she disagrees with their advice on a fundamental issue: They want her to defend herself by saying she is insane, but she wants to plead not guilty and go to trial.

Jacks has been in a D.C. jail since Jan. 9, when she was arrested after federal marshals serving an eviction notice on her rowhouse on Sixth Street SE found the bodies of her four daughters, ages 5, 6, 11 and 16. Authorities said the girls had been dead since the summer of 2007.

After Jacks was arrested, the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency was flooded with callers reporting suspected cases of child abuse. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) promptly fired several social workers at the agency after the bodies were discovered.

More questions about how the city protects children arose last week when a Calvert County woman was charged with child abuse in connection with her 7-year-old adopted daughter. Authorities have said that Renee D. Bowman, 43, told investigators that bodies found in her freezer were those of two of her adopted daughters. Bowman had adopted the three girls from the District in 2001 and 2004.

The Jacks case was equally shocking when the bodies of the young girls were found in January.

Last month, Weisberg gave defense attorneys two weeks to say whether they intend to argue that Jacks is not guilty by reason of insanity. Jacks has rebuffed her attorneys several times since then.

One of her court-appointed attorneys, Peter Krauthamer, said that because she was refusing to meet, he could not determine "whether she is competent or not."

At the hearing yesterday, Jacks appeared increasingly frustrated as she stood next to her attorneys. At times, she rolled her eyes and made dramatic sighs. At a hearing this summer, Jacks said she looked forward to a trial. Weisberg hopes to begin the trial Dec. 1 but cannot do so until the evaluations are conducted.

Weisberg asked Jacks why she refused to meet with her attorney.

"He's trying to push the insanity plea," Jacks said. "I'd rather plead not guilty. Period. Straight out."

Weisberg ordered Jacks to return to court Tuesday for an evaluation and later this month for a follow-up evaluation.

He encouraged her to cooperate. "By not doing so," he said, "you won't gain anything."

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