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Accused killer’s competency at issue

- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2009

D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg on Friday told the woman accused of killing her four daughters that he was going to ask her some questions, but defendant Banita M. Jacks had another plan.

Miss Jacks was "so sick," a lawyer explained on her behalf, that she might not be able to continue the hearing. She "requests to see the questions beforehand," the lawyer added.

"Is it a medical problem for which you are receiving treatment?" asked the judge. The defendant shook her head, and one of her lawyers explained that she had a bad cold.

Judge Weisberg gave it one last shot, explaining that the questions would be along the lines of "How old are you? and how far along" in school did she get.

But in the end he acquiesced to the defendant's requests, agreeing to provide a list of questions to both the prosecution and defense lawyers and adjourning the proceedings for a week.

Miss Jacks has been jailed since Jan. 9, 2008, when federal marshals serving an eviction order discovered the decomposed bodies of her four daughters in her home.

She was indicted in September on 12 counts, including murder and failure to get medical care for her daughters - Brittany, 17, Tatianna, 11, N'Kiah, 6, and Aja, 5. Judge Weisberg set July 13 as the trial date.

Miss Jacks was found competent to stand trial at a Jan. 23 hearing. At that time, Judge Weisberg set Feb. 6 as the date he would question Miss Jacks about her competency.

Neither the judge nor the prosecutors appeared to be surprised by Miss Jacks' request on Friday to see the judge's questions in writing.

Miss Jacks' competency is an issue because she refused to cooperate with her defense and medical personnel. She also injured herself by slamming her hand in a door jamb, and smiled when read a description of how decomposition had ravaged her daughters' bodies, according to court records.

The judge must determine whether Miss Jacks, who was given the anti-psychotic drug Haldol at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital, fully understands what she faces, said defense attorney G. Allen Dale.

"Judge Weisberg has been around a long time. He is very smart," Mr. Dale said. "He is the perfect type for this very case. He's very level-headed; Judge Weisberg will give her as fair a trial as you can possibly get."