A Southeast woman accused of killing her four daughters created a “prison of torture” in her own home and long planned how she would carry out the murders and get away with it, prosecutors said Monday.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their closing arguments before D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Weisberg in the final day of Banita Jacks’ trial. The decomposing bodies of her four girls were found by U.S. Marshals serving an eviction in her Southeast home in January 2008. The girls are believed to have been ages 5 to 16 when they died.
Judge Weisberg is deciding the case without a jury after Miss Jacks waived her right to a jury trial. Miss Jacks is charged with four counts of felony murder, four counts of premeditated first-degree murder and several child-cruelty charges. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Before closing arguments began, defense attorneys rested their case and told Judge Weisberg that Miss Jacks would not take the stand. Judge Weisberg asked Miss Jacks if she knew her rights and made her own choice not to testify at trial, and she replied, “Yes.”
Prosecutor Michelle Jackson said in the months before their deaths that Miss Jacks mistreated her daughters, denied them food and isolated them from family and friends. The murders were the “climax” of a “scheme that she connived,” Ms. Jackson said.
“She placed them in their own prison of torture,” not on foreign soil, but in her own home, she said. “It was systematic and methodical.”
Ms. Jackson pointed to testimony from relatives, neighbors and others who described how they no longer saw the girls and how Miss Jacks made her home appear vacant. She also cited recorded statements Miss Jacks made during a police interview as evidence for some claims.
Also, expert witnesses confirm that the eldest girl, with whom Miss Jacks had conflicts, was stabbed and the younger three were strangled, prosecutors said.
Miss Jacks hid the bodies because she didn’t want anyone to hold her accountable, Ms. Jackson said. Miss Jacks had hoped she would have another year before being evicted, by which time the bodies would have disappeared, the prosecutor added.
But Miss Jacks’ attorney disputed prosecutors’ claims, saying the government relied on shaky testimony from witnesses and failed to prove that Miss Jacks is guilty. In his arguments, Peter Krauthamer said prosecutors are asking the judge to rely on some statements from Miss Jacks’ “brutal interrogation” by police, but then dismiss the rest.
“The government can’t have it both ways,” Mr. Krauthamer said.
The timing of certain events that prosecutors highlight as significant, such as when Miss Jacks got rid of all of her furniture, is not entirely clear, Mr. Krauthamer said. He also said testimony from scientists devolved into a “battle of experts,” as they provided conflicting information and failed to determine when and how the girls died.
Mr. Krauthamer also dismissed child-cruelty allegations against Miss Jacks, asking why neighbors and others didn’t hear any cries from the girls. It’s a tough case, he said, but that doesn’t mean standards for finding guilt should change.
“This case is anything but simple,” Mr. Krauthamer said. “There is no proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Judge Weisberg said he would need time to “digest” the evidence and arguments, and would provide an update Wednesday on whether he has a verdict or will need more time to decide.
If convicted on all murder charges, Miss Jacks faces a maximum mandatory sentence of life in prison.