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July 29th 2009

A judge found a District of Columbia woman guilty Wednesday of killing her four daughters.

Thirty-four-year-old Banita Jacks was convicted of four counts of felony murder, three counts of premeditated first-degree murder and four counts of first degree child cruelty. She was acquitted of one count of premeditated first-degree murder.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Weisberg decided the case himself after Jacks waived her right to a jury trial.

U.S. Marshal deputies discovered the girls’ decomposing bodies in January 2008 while carrying out an eviction at Jacks’ southeast Washington row house. The girls are believed to have been ages 5 to 16 when they were killed.

Jacks was found not guilty of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of the oldest daughter, Brittany, because the judge said it was difficult to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that she died from what are believed to be stab wounds.

He said the younger three girls were strangled to death by Jacks.

Before reading his verdict, Weisberg said this was one of the “most challenging” cases he’s had in his 32 years as a judge.

“It was a very lonely assignment,” he said.

Jacks, who walked with a cane as she entered the courtroom, looked at Weisberg as he read his verdict but did not show any visible emotion.

Jacks’ public defender Peter Krauthmer said the defense would “pursue every appellate avenue available.”

Sentencing is set for Oct. 16.

July 21st 2009

A witness in the trial of a woman accused of killing her four daughters says the parents allowed two of the girls to smoke marijuana at the ages of 3 and 4.

LaShawn Ragland, a friend of Banita Jacks’ boyfriend, testified in Jacks’ murder trial on Monday.

Ragland told prosecutors that she once observed Jacks and boyfriend Nathaniel Fogle Jr. laughing as the two youngest girls, N’Kiah and Aja, smoked marijuana.

Fogle, who died in 2007, was their father.

U.S. Marshals discovered the four girls’ decomposing bodies in January 2008 while serving an eviction in Jacks’ southeast D.C. home.

Jacks has pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated first-degree murder.A woman accused of killing her four daughters told police in an interview that the girls were possessed by demons and that she got rid of most of the family’s possessions to contain the evil spirits.

A District of Columbia Superior Court judge spent a second day Tuesday reviewing a recording of a police interrogation of Banita Jacks. The decomposing bodies of Jacks’ daughters — ages 5 to 17 — were discovered in January 2008 when U.S. marshals came to evict her from her southeast Washington home.

Judge Frederick Weisberg was to decide whether to admit the interview as evidence in her trial. Jacks’ attorneys want it excluded. They say police were trying to get a confession from her before they had evidence that she was responsible.

Weisberg will decide the case without a jury at Jacks’ request.

Jacks’ lawyers have urged Jacks to use an insanity defense, but she has refused. Weisberg has found her competent to stand trial.

In the videotaped interview, Jacks said the girls stopped being her daughters and took on the identities of the demons.

“They got so bad,” she said.

She said her eldest daughter, Brittany, was possessed by a demon she called “Jezebel,” a prostitute who caused suffering and spread disease.

“With demon possession, you are a demon, period,” Jacks says on the recording.

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Jacks said Brittany would fight her and she had to fight back. She said her younger daughters made horrible “screeching” noises and caused other problems.

Authorities have said Brittany was stabbed to death, while the others were strangled.

Jacks said the demons clung to her possessions, so she had to get rid of them to purge the demons from the house.

But Jacks said she had nothing to do with the girls’ deaths. She told detectives that her daughters inexplicably died one by one in their sleep.

“It wasn’t me,” she said.

When police questioned her about blood they found in Brittany’s room, Jacks insisted there was none.

As each of the girls died, they finally became separated from the demons, she said.

Jacks spoke in a faint voice during the interview, at times rambling or pausing. At one point, when detectives asked what she would say if the medical examiner determined Brittany had died of stab wounds, she replied that she would rather consult a lawyer before answering. However, she continued to talk about other things.

Later, after the autopsy report came in, detectives asked Jacks why her account didn’t match the finding that the girls were killed. She repeated a phrase she used many times during the interview: “None of this makes any sense.”

“This whole story is wild,” she added.

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