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At Murder Trial, D.C. Police Sergeant Recants Story of Seeing Jacks Girl Healthy

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By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009

A D.C. police sergeant who visited Banita Jacks's Southeast Washington home to check on her children told a Superior Court judge Wednesday that he never saw the oldest daughter, Brittany, even though he wrote in a report and told a federal prosecutor that he had seen the teen and that she looked healthy.

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The officer's testimony revealed details about how the city's police department, one of five District agencies that had contact with Jacks's four daughters, failed to follow up and possibly save the girls' lives.

During the sixth day of Jacks's murder trial, Sgt. James Lafranchise testified that he visited her rowhouse April 30, 2007, after a social worker from Brittany's high school repeatedly called police when the teen failed to show up at school for weeks.

Lafranchise did not file a report of that visit until Jan. 9, 2008, the day Jacks was arrested and the decomposing bodies of her four daughters, 5, 6, 11, and 16, were discovered. Prosecutors said the girls had been dead at least seven months. In that report, Lafranchise wrote that he did not see Brittany.

But in a follow-up report Jan. 13, Lafranchise wrote that he "thought" he had seen Brittany with her three younger sisters during the visit. At the time, Lafranchise said the sisters appeared "clean and well fed, healthy and playful."

Within days of filing his report, Lafranchise was interviewed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines as she began gathering information on the case. He told her that he had seen Brittany and that she seemed well.

But during questioning from prosecutors and Jacks's defense attorneys Wednesday, Lafranchise said he had never seen Brittany or asked about her during the visit.

Jacks's attorney, Peter Krauthamer, asked him whether he lied in the report. Lafranchise said it was "inaccurate" and blamed the inconsistency on stress.

"I was messed up," testified Lafranchise, who is assigned to the 7th District. He later said that writing in his report that he saw Brittany was "wishful thinking."

Lafranchise never explained, nor was asked in court, why he waited seven months to file his report, which he said he wrote from "memory."

After 21 years as a D.C. police officer and several years in homicide, Lafranchise testified, he got "burned out" with the gruesome scenes and requested to be transferred to regular street patrol, which is where he was working when he visited Jacks's house.

During his April visit, Lafranchise said, he interviewed Jacks in her front yard. One of Jacks's youngest daughters yelled out to the officer, "Please don't take my mommy away." He said Jacks told him that she was home-schooling the children and that she had pulled them out of District charter schools because they were being taught about sex and homosexuality.

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