Mother Held in Four Slayings Is Called Mentally Fit for Trial

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 24, 2009

Banita Jacks, the Southeast Washington woman accused of killing her four daughters, is mentally fit to stand trial, according to mental health experts at St. Elizabeths Hospital.

At a hearing yesterday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Weisberg read from a letter written by a St. Elizabeths psychologist who said Jacks, 34, has "factual and rational understanding" of the court proceedings and the charges against her. Weisberg set Jacks's jury trial for July 13. Her next hearing was set for Feb. 6.

Tension between Jacks and her court-appointed attorneys surfaced when the attorneys insisted that she pursue an insanity defense. Jacks has said she wants to plead not guilty.

She later told officials that she no longer wanted to be advised by her public defenders, Peter Krauthamer and Lloyd Nolan, and wants to represent herself. Yesterday, Weisberg said he hoped Jacks would reconsider her decision and take the advice the attorneys offer. Jacks, standing between Krauthamer and Nolan with her wrists and ankles shackled, smiled in response.

To determine her mental condition, Weisberg has ordered three separate mental evaluations of Jacks since fall. She declined to cooperate in any of the evaluations. In October, Weisberg ordered Jacks to spend 45 days at St. Elizabeths, the District's psychiatric hospital, for further evaluations. Last month, a report by a staff psychologist said Jacks was found to have a psychotic disorder and was given the drug Haldol.

In the hospital's most recent report, filed Thursday, staff members said Jacks had made progress and was no longer taking medication. They also asked the court to keep Jacks at the hospital until her trial to "assure her competency."

Jacks was arrested last January after federal marshals serving an eviction notice at her rowhouse on Sixth Street SE found the bodies of her four daughters. Authorities said the girls had been dead for up to six months.

The youngest daughter, Aja Fogle, 5, had been strangled and beaten, according to a 12-count indictment returned by a grand jury. N'Kiah Fogle, 6, and Tatiana Jacks, 11, were strangled, and Brittany Jacks, 15, whom her mother referred to as a "Jezebel," was stabbed, the indictment said.

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