- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

D.C. officials will likely never be able to determine the exact causes of death of the four girls found in a Southeast row house last month because their bodies were too badly decomposed, the chief medical examiner said yesterday.

“The cause of death on the death certificates will be listed as ‘Undetermined,’” Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said at a news conference yesterday with Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Marie -Lydie Y. Pierre-Louis. “However, the manner of death will officially be listed as a homicide.”

The bodies of Brittany Jacks, 16; Tatianna Jacks, 11; N’Kiah Fogle, 6; and Aja Fogle, 5 were found Jan. 9 by U.S. marshals serving an eviction notice at a row house on Sixth Street in Southeast. They were officially identified, and their death certificates were signed yesterday morning.

The girls’ mother, 33-year-old Banita Jacks, has been charged with their murders.

Dr. Pierre-Louis said yesterday that the decomposed state of the girls — who she said had “probably” been dead longer than two weeks at the time they were found — made it nearly impossible to determine exactly how they died.

Officials still await the results of an entomology report that will determine exactly how long the girls had been dead. Neighbors said the children hadn’t been seen for months. A D.C. government timeline of the case issued last month said a police officer who visited the home on the advice of child-welfare workers reported seeing the children April 30.

Dr. Pierre-Louis said her office ruled out illicit drugs and other medications as the causes of death, but that reports of perforations and signs the girls might have been stabbed or strangled cannot be conclusively proven.

“We cannot say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ what happened to these girls,” Dr. Pierre-Louis said. “Whether they were strangled, whether they were not strangled, we just cannot say, because we do not have the organs to allow us to say it.”

The manner of death in all four cases will be classified as a homicide because of the circumstances surrounding the case, Mr. Fenty said.

Court documents show the bodies of the three youngest girls were laid out facedown, side-by-side on the floor in one room of the row house, while Brittany’s body was on the floor in a different room.

A large knife was nearby and what appeared to be blood was found on the floor. A white T-shirt partially covered the girl’s body, and another was near her head.

Miss Jacks told investigators the children were “possessed by demons” and that they died in their sleep, court documents show.

The finding in the Jacks case is not expected to prove detrimental to prosecutors, who have secured convictions with similar evidence in the past. For example, D.C. resident Harold Austin was sentenced in 2006 to 42 years in prison for killing his girlfriend, whose body was never found.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on specifics of the Jacks prosecution because the investigation is continuing.

“We’re continuing to work closely with [the Metropolitan Police Department], the Medical Examiner’s Office and others to ensure that justice is achieved in the Banita Jacks case,” Mr. Phillips said.

The girls’ identities also had been assumed and not previously confirmed because of their decomposed state.

Dr. Pierre-Louis said her office officially identified three of the girls through DNA comparisons to their mother and identified Brittany through her dental records. The two fathers of the three younger girls also were determined, she said.

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