Banita Jacks Trial: Defense Moves to Dismiss
On Friday, the seventh and penultimate day of the Banita Jacks murder trial, Judge Frederick H. Weisberg denied defense attorney Peter Krauthamer’s last-ditch move for dismissal.
The judge rejected Krauthamer’s claim that there was no evidence to support the twelve charges against Jacks, who is accused of killing her four daughters. The charges include premeditated first-degree murder and cruelty to children.
Krauthamer spent Friday afternoon working to discredit State Prosecutor Deborah Sines’ forensic evidence. It was his last chance; closing arguments in the trial will be Monday.
For most of the two-and-a-half hour court session Krauthamer did his best to discredit the prosecution’s last witness. He grilled forensic anthropologist Dr. William Rodriguez, doing his best to make Rodriguez admit that there was no way to confirm what appeared to be strangulation and stab wounds on the children’s bodies.
Krauthamer used passages from medical textbooks Rodiguez had co-authored to suggest that the marks around the necks of the three younger children, which the prosecution claimed were impressions left by whatever was used to strangle them, could also have been left by their t-shirts after they were already dead. Bodies expand as they decompose, Krauthamer noted, and t-shirts do not.
The defense attorney also claimed there was no proof that the punctures found in 16-year-old Brittany Jacks’ abdomen were what killed her. Rodriguez, pressed by Krauthamer, said the punctures were likely stab wounds, but that he could “not say that they were the absolute cause of death.”
After the prosecution’s final witness left the stand, Krauthamer called his own less than impressive witnesses. First, he had forensic examiner Herald A. Deadman cast doubt on whether the ligatures presented by the prosecution had been used to strangle the three youngest children.
Next, Krauthamer did his best to guide Public Defenders Service Staff Investigator Timothy Ruck into saying that, when he examined the Jacks’ house back in January 2008, the skylight over young Brittney Jacks’ body was un-shuttered, allowing sunshine to stream in and accelerate the decomposition. But Ruck failed to follow the script.
At first he said he thought it had been, but then—under Sines’ cross-examination—he acknowledged he couldn't be sure because it was a long time ago.
Worse, in a telltale blunder that threatened to overshadow his testimony, defense witness Ruck said he’d gone to Jacks’ house in 2008 “to examine the scene of the crime”—a somewhat unfortunate remark, given the defense’s claim that the four children had died in their sleep.