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Mom ruled competent for murder trial

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"I am not insane." So said Banita Jacks Friday at her competency hearing in D.C. Superior Court. Judge Frederick Weisberg, who said he considered Miss Jacks competent when she appeared before him a year ago, ruled her competent to stand trial for the murder of her four children.

Friday's hearing lasted about 30 minutes, and the majority of that time consisted of direct exchanges between the judge and the defendant.

The series of questions centered on Miss Jacks' competency because she has been uncooperative with her defense team and with medical personnel. She also rejected her attorneys' advice to mount an insanity defense.

The judge opened his line of questioning by asking Miss Jacks such things as her age, her last year of schooling and whether she had ever been under the care of a psychiatrist or treated for mental illness other than that listed in his court orders.

Miss Jacks, who was shackled and wore dark gray prison garb, respectfully answered the judge's questions. She said she is 35 and explained to the judge that she left school in ninth grade because she was pregnant. When asked, "Do you read and write," Miss Jacks responded, "Yes, sir."

Judge Weisberg then began a lengthy string of questions regarding the specifics of her case and the details involving an insanity defense.

Miss Jacks has been jailed since Jan. 9, 2008, when federal marshals serving an eviction order discovered her daughters' decomposing bodies on the upper level of their two-story home in Southeast. She was indicted in September on 12 counts, including murder and failure to get medical care for the girls - Brittany, 17, Tatianna, 11, N'Kiah, 6, and Aja, 5. Authorities say they found evidence of stab wounds and strangulation.

Miss Jacks told authorities after her arrest that her daughters were "possessed by demons," according to court records, and that they died in their sleep.

On Friday, Miss Jacks told the judge that she understands each of the charges leveled against her and that she could get "25 years to life" on each murder count. Judge Weisberg corrected her and said she would get "30 years to life without the possibility of release" if convicted.

The judge led a detailed discussion with Miss Jacks regarding insanity defenses, plainly laying out her options and explaining that she could be released if found guilty by reason of insanity. Afterward, he asked Miss Jacks if she had questions of him. "No, sir," she replied.

It was then Miss Jacks' turn to explain to the judge why she is waiving her right to an insanity defense.

"Basically, your honor, because I am not insane and these are alleged charges."

Judge Weisberg found Miss Jacks competent and set another status hearing for June 5, a little more than a month before she is scheduled to stand trial.

About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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