Banita Jacks Case: Judge to Decide Whether Woman Killed Daughters

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 3, 2009

A judge, not a jury, will decide whether Banita Jacks is guilty of killing her four daughters inside their Southeast Washington home, a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled yesterday.

Jacks's attorneys requested a bench trial last month, and Judge Frederick H. Weisberg granted the motion. Her trial is set to begin July 13, and legal experts say the case has generated so much publicity that her attorneys were concerned that they wouldn't be able to find an impartial jury.

The lawyers are barred by the judge from talking publicly about the case because of the publicity.

Jacks, 35, was arrested Jan. 9, 2008, after federal marshals serving an eviction notice at her rowhouse on Sixth Street SE found her daughters' bodies. Authorities said the girls had been dead for up to six months. The youngest, 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.

The case cast a spotlight on the city's Child and Family Services Agency, which failed to aggressively investigate tips that the girls were in danger.

Jacks has said she wants to plead not guilty and has repeatedly defied the requests of her court-appointed attorneys to offer an insanity defense. During court sessions in the months immediately after her arrest, Weisberg appeared concerned about Jacks's mental health and capacity to understand the charges.

Last fall, he ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Jacks at St. Elizabeths Hospital. Mental health experts there said she was fit to stand trial and understood the charges.

Also in the period after her arrest, Jacks began not accepting meetings with her attorneys, and Weisberg reprimanded her, saying her defense would be hurt.

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