- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Southeast D.C. woman who was expected to be sentenced Friday to life in prison for murdering her four daughters could instead walk free under a scenario outlined by the judge who found her guilty, though such an outcome still faces several legal hurdles.

The decomposing bodies of Banita Jacks’ daughters - ages 5 to 16 - were discovered in January 2008 when U.S. Marshals came to evict Jacks from her rowhouse. In July, D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Weisberg found Jacks guilty of four counts of felony murder, three counts of premeditated first-degree murder and four counts of first-degree child cruelty.

Jacks was scheduled to be sentenced Friday but Judge Weisberg postponed it while he considers issues related to her refusal to use an insanity defense. Jacks rejected the defense against the advice of her lawyers, who are now asking Weisberg to appoint an independent counsel to investigate whether she was competent to make such a decision.

If the defense is successful, it could lead to a new trial, and Jacks, 34, could be found not guilty by reason of insanity. That course of events could end with Jacks walking free, Judge Weisberg said.

Ordinarily, a defendant who successfully uses an insanity defense gets committed to a psychiatric institution. But that’s not the case in the District if the insanity defense is imposed against the person’s wishes, Judge Weisberg said. Civil commitment proceedings could still be held, but there’s no guarantee they would be successful, he added.

“It’s by no means clear to me that Jacks would be civilly committable in those circumstances, despite the horrific crimes of which I have found her guilty,” Judge Weisberg said.

Jacks reiterated to the judge that she didn’t want to use an insanity defense.

Jacks previously told police her daughters were possessed by demons and inexplicably died one by one in their sleep. She thought they would be resurrected.

The extreme decomposition made it difficult for experts to determine exactly how and when the girls died, but medical examiners said the three youngest children were most likely strangled and 16-year-old Brittany was probably stabbed.

Jacks has insisted she is not mentally ill. But “the inability to recognize one’s illness” is common among the mentally ill, her lawyers said.

Prosecutors portrayed the motion as a ploy to win a new trial and questioned the timing.

Judge Weisberg scheduled another hearing for Dec. 18.

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