Decomposition of Oldest Jacks Child's Body Made Medical Examiner's Job Difficult

The four daughters of Banita Jacks: N'Kiah, left, Aja, Brittany and Tatianna. They had been dead for at least seven months when their bodies were found.
The four daughters of Banita Jacks: N'Kiah, left, Aja, Brittany and Tatianna. They had been dead for at least seven months when their bodies were found. (Wjla (Channel 7))
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A District medical examiner told a D.C. Superior Court judge Monday that Banita Jacks's oldest daughter's body was so badly decomposed that he was only about "50 percent" sure that she had been murdered.

In the fourth day of Jacks's trial, Assistant Medical Examiner A. Wayne Williams said that when he did an autopsy on Brittany Jacks's body shortly after it was found on Jan. 9, 2008, initially he could conclude only that the cause of death was "suspicion of foul play."

Williams said that during the autopsy, he found three puncture wounds to Brittany's abdomen, which were "highly likely" to have been stab wounds, but he was unclear whether the wounds were enough to kill her. "This was a very tough case, very complicated. It doesn't fit the textbook," he said.

Under cross-examination by Jacks's attorney, Peter Krauthamer, Williams said that if Brittany had been stabbed to death, it was unusual for there not to be any blood spatter on the walls or ceiling of the bedroom where her body was found. But that could have meant that she bled internally, Williams said.

Authorities ruled that Brittany, 16, and her three sisters -- Tatianna Jacks, 11, N'Kiah Fogle, 6, and Aja Fogle, 5 -- had been dead for at least seven months when their bodies were found by federal marshals who came to evict the family from the Sixth Street SE rowhouse where they lived. Jacks said the girls died in their sleep, one by one. Authorities said that Brittany was stabbed and that the three youngest girls were beaten and strangled.

Jacks is charged with 12 counts, including premeditated first-degree murder and cruelty to children. She faces life in prison without parole if convicted.

Prosecutors spent much of Monday arguing over how Brittany died and the condition of her body.

One of the poster-size photos used in the trial showed Brittany's body appearing almost mummified, lying flat on the floor with her arms extended above her head. Brittany weighed about 46 pounds and was about 5-foot-5. A knife was also found near her body. After reviewing the deaths of Brittany's younger sisters and consulting with his colleagues, Williams said he was then about "99 percent sure" Brittany's death was the result of a homicide.

Krauthamer tried to raise concerns about Williams's conclusion being influenced by the national media attention to the case or the fact that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) visited the coroner's office during the investigation and eventually fired six D.C. social workers who had contact with the Jacks family. Williams said no outside factors influenced his findings.

Krauthamer also tried to challenge the testimony of a Capitol Heights woman whom Jacks and her family lived with for about four months in 2006 after they were kicked out of a homeless shelter.

LaShawn Ragland, a friend of Jacks's boyfriend Nathaniel Fogle Jr., told Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Jackson that she watched Jacks and Fogle sitting around and laughing as their two youngest daughters, N'Kiah and Aja, who were ages 4 and 3 at the time, smoked marijuana.

But during Krauthamer's cross-examination, Ragland acknowledged that during her Jan. 16, 2008, grand jury testimony, just a week after Jacks was arrested, she did not mention the marijuana use by the girls. "I wasn't asked," she said.

Ragland also testified that she watched how Jacks and Brittany would argue and how Jacks would withhold food from Brittany as punishment and isolate her from her sisters.

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