In Testimony at Murder Trial, Relatives Recall Jacks as Caring but Distant

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 17, 2009

Banita Jacks broke into tears during her trial in D.C. Superior Court yesterday, the first emotional outburst she has had in more than a dozen court appearances since her arrest last year on charges of murdering her four daughters.

Jacks, 35, sitting next to her two attorneys, began crying after her mother, Mamie Jacks, was called as a witness by Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines. Within five minutes of taking the stand, Mamie Jacks was asked to identify two large poster-size family photos of Jacks's daughters that Sines pulled out.

The first showed the oldest daughter, Brittany Jacks, 16, smiling and posing with several of her friends in school. The second was a school picture of the three other sisters, Tatiana Jacks, 11, N'Kiah Fogle, 6, and Aja Fogle, 5, posing and smiling together with their hair in braids and dressed in white polo shirts.

As Sines walked to the witness stand to show Mamie Jacks the photos, Banita Jacks began to cry, covering her face as tears rolled down her cheeks. Minutes later, Judge Frederick H. Weisberg called for a five-minute recess, and Jacks was escorted out of the courtroom to a holding cell.

On the morning of Jan. 9, 2008, Banita Jacks was arrested after federal marshals came to her rented, two-story rowhouse in Southeast Washington to evict her. When they arrived, they found the bodies of the four girls in two upstairs bedrooms. Jacks is charged with 12 counts, including premeditated first-degree murder and cruelty to children. Because of the ages of the victims, Jacks, who rejected an insanity defense, faces life in prison without parole if convicted.

The trial, now in its fifth day, is expected to last another week. Yesterday, the girls' grandmothers and other family members who were called as witnesses described Banita as a caring, attentive mother who became distant after her live-in boyfriend, Nathaniel Fogle Jr., died in February 2007 after a long battle with cancer.

At times, Mamie Jacks contradicted what her daughter told police. She said her daughter dropped out of school in Charles County in the 10th grade, not the sixth grade, as Banita Jacks had told police. Mamie Jacks said her daughter left school when she was 17 and was pregnant with Brittany.

According to testimony and previous accounts from family members, Jacks and Nathaniel Fogle met in 2000 when she was working as a hair stylist and Fogle would go to her to get his hair done in cornrows. In 2005, Jacks and the girls moved in with Mamie Jacks in Waldorf after they were evicted from their home. Fogle would come to the house and visit Jacks and the girls. Mamie Jacks said she wouldn't allow Fogle, who is the father of the two youngest girls, to stay at the house with them, only to visit. Once Jacks caught Fogle in Banita's bedroom and ordered him out.

"I told him he had two seconds to get out of my house," Mamie Jacks testified. Banita told her mother that if Fogle couldn't stay there with her and her daughters, she would leave.

Banita then cut off communication with her mother. The last time she saw her was at a family gathering in 2005. Mamie Jacks said she didn't know where her daughter was living or whether her grandchildren were in school. But she said she had no reason to believe the children were in danger. Yet, in 2006, she said she called the Charles County social services department to check on the girls. She did not explain why she made the call. The next time Mamie Jacks heard from her daughter was in a phone call from the D.C. jail after Banita's arrest.

"She took excellent care of Brittany and all of the children," Mamie Jacks said on the stand, holding onto her pocketbook as it rested on her lap. Occasionally, she glanced over at her daughter.

"I never saw her mistreat the girls, and the girls never complained about her mistreatment," she said.

Fogle's mother, Jessie Fogle, said Banita Jacks became more distant when her son's illness progressed and he checked into George Washington University Hospital Center and then a hospice.

When Fogle called Jacks to tell her that doctors said her son's death was imminent, she urged her to bring the girls to the hospital to say goodbye. She said Jacks, who told police that she did not trust hospitals or doctors, lashed out over the phone. "What did they do to him? He was all right when he left here!" Fogle said Jacks yelled at her.

Fogle said Jacks did not attend her son's funeral, and other family members said Jacks did not tell her daughters that Fogle had died.

Fogle said that in the months after her son's funeral, she stopped by the house on Sixth Street SE several times and called to check on her grandchildren, but Jacks either would not answer the door or would call and tell her not to come by again. A week before the marshals came to the house, Fogle called Mamie Jacks, saying she could not find Banita Jacks and wondering whether she had heard from her or the children.

Both grandmothers and other relatives said Jacks, who was receiving child support payments and food stamps, never asked them for money or help. "If she had, of course I would have helped her," Fogle said.

Both grandmothers have filed civil lawsuits against the District for failing to prevent the deaths of the children.

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