- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2008

A Southeast woman charged with killing her four daughters and leaving their decomposing bodies in her house for weeks was ordered held without bail yesterday by a Superior Court judge.

Banita Jacks, 33, told investigators that she did not kill the girls but that they were “possessed by demons,” according to an affidavit filed in support of the charges by Detective Darryl Richmond.

Miss Jacks, who wore a white jumpsuit and sandals, showed no emotion as she was arraigned on four counts of cruelty to children and felony murder in connection with the deaths of Brittany Jacks, 17; Tatianna Jacks, 11; N”Kiah Fogle, 6; and Aja Fogle, 5.

Miss Jacks, who was represented by a lawyer with the public defender’s office, stated her name for the record but otherwise did not speak during the hearing. After about 20 minutes, Magistrate Judge Karen Howze briefly recessed to consider a defense request that Miss Jacks be released to the custody of a male blood relative living in the District.

Prosecutors objected to the request.

“I don’t know how many bodies you need before we have to demonstrate that she is a danger to the community,” said prosecutor Deborah Fines.

The judge denied the request, saying that Miss Jacks’ belief that her children were possessed posed questions about her mental state. Judge Howze scheduled a detention hearing for Feb. 11.

A group of more than a dozen persons were in the courtroom to support Miss Jacks. The group stayed quiet throughout the hearing and declined to talk to reporters afterward.

If convicted, Miss Jacks could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison.

According to the affidavit, Miss Jacks waived her rights and was interviewed Wednesday night after U.S. marshals serving an eviction notice found the bodies at her house in the 4200 block of Sixth Street Southeast.

Detective Richmond said in the affidavit supporting the charges that Miss Jacks tried to stop the marshals from going upstairs to the rooms where she had left her daughters’ bodies.

The affidavit said that the bodies of the three youngest girls were laid out facedown, side by side on the floor in one room, 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 detectives that Brittany was the last to die.

According to court papers, a witness told investigators that Miss Jacks sometimes treated Brittany more harshly than the other children, depriving her of food while the others ate.

The witness said Miss Jacks once drove Brittany to her mother’s house in Waldorf in July 2006. When her mother wasn’t home, Miss Jacks left the girl on the doorstep unattended for more than 10 hours.

She told investigators that no one had been inside her house since May and that the children died before the electricity in the house was cut off, which prosecutors said occurred on Sept. 5.

Miss Jacks told investigators that she had not fed her children for a “substantial period of time prior to their deaths” and that the children “began dying in their sleep one at a time, all within a seven- to 10-day period.”

The affidavit says Miss Jacks said that she did not call police or fire officials because “she did not trust either agency” and that calling emergency personnel would “cause her more problems.”

D.C. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Marie-Lydie Y. Pierre-Louis said at a press conference yesterday morning that a preliminary investigation suggested that the children had been dead for more than 15 days.

She said that Brittany’s body showed signs of a possible stab wound to the abdomen and that the other three children may have been asphyxiated or poisoned.

“We have very limited material to work with,” Dr. Pierre-Louis said. “The bodies were very desiccated.”

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said a cross-agency investigation will be conducted to determine what contact the school system, police and the Child and Family Services Agency had with Miss Jacks or the children.

“I don’t think anyone in the city can remember a case involving this many young people who have died in such a tragic way,” Mr. Fenty said.

Court records in Charles County, Md., show that Miss Jacks filed paternity suits against three men, two of which were successful. In one case, Norman C. Penn Jr., whose most recent address is in Glen Burnie, is named the father of Brittany. In another case, Kevin J. Stoddard, whose most recent address is listed in Prince George’s County, acknowledged that he is the father of Tatianna.

The county court records indicated that both men failed to pay required child support. Mr. Penn was convicted of criminal contempt and received a suspended jail sentence. Records also show that in 2004, lenders foreclosed on a Waldorf town home that Miss Jacks had purchased three years earlier.

Nona Richardson, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said Miss Jacks’ three younger daughters attended the Meridian Public Charter School in the District consistently until March.

When they stopped showing up, Miss Richardson said the school tried to contact the mother by mail and telephone. Officials finally went to the woman’s home, and the woman told a school official that she wanted to withdraw the children and home-school them. They were officially withdrawn in mid-March.

Miss Richardson said D.C. education officials were notified about the withdrawal at the end of the school year, in accordance with procedures.

A child at Miss Jacks’ address also had attended Stuart-Hobson Elementary School but withdrew in 2006 as a fifth-grader, public school officials said.

The D.C. Child and Family Services agency attempted last year to investigate a complaint about the family. But investigators could not make face-to-face contact with family members and thought they had moved to Maryland, agency spokeswoman Mindy Good said.

Norris West, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said D.C. officials in June asked social-services officials in Charles County to open a case for the family. However, county officials were not able to locate the family, and it is not clear whether they had actually moved to Charles County, Mr. West said.

According to D.C. Superior Court records, Miss Jacks was arrested and charged last January with driving an unregistered vehicle. In February, she paid a $175 fine and the case was dismissed.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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