City Desk

Jacks Prosecutor Calls Mother’s Home a “Prison of Torture.”

Banita Jacks, wearing a dark gray dress, looked unsteady as she rose to face the judge. She spoke quietly only to confirm she knew her rights and had chosen not to take the stand during her nine-day trial. Apparently, she was content to let the lawyers detail and debate her conduct. Anyone hoping yesterday's closing arguments in D.C. Superior Court might reveal something more about the woman at the center of this murder case will have to keep guessing.

Both sides exchanged final volleys about the reliability of forensic evidence and the credentials of witnesses. Neither side mentioned the central question: the lack of an insanity plea.

Admittedly, insanity pleas rarely result in acquittal. One study in the '90s found that just 1 percent of defendants use them, and only a quarter of those are successful. But with no insanity plea, the defense was left scraping together a few tenuous arguments. In his 90-minute closing argument, Defense Attorney Peter Krauthamer summed the case up as follows: "There are a lot of things that don't make sense, but we don't have to explain them."

The prosecution had failed to meet its burden of proof, he said; the forensic scientists "lacked scientific rigor" and their accounts were riddled with inconsistencies and discrepancies.

Krauthamer went on to claim that the infamous argument heard through the wall before 16-year old Brittany Jacks, the oldest of the four children Jacks stands accused of killing, disappeared in early April 2007 was a typical mother-daughter tiff.

If there was neglect – and Krauthamer conceded there was – there was no child abuse, he insisted. The children were perfectly happy. Neighbors who testified otherwise were obviously driven by some personal vendetta. Jacks didn't try to isolate the children. She didn't starve them. She just couldn't pay the bills.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Jackson, who presented the prosecution's closing argument, offered a less charitable description of Jacks' home. She called it a "prison of torture" presided over by a calculating mother. Jackson described Jacks as a systematic, methodical killer of her own children who took them out of school, and isolated them from friends and family, and lied to anybody who stopped by to ask about their well-being.

"This is exactly what nightmares are made of...but they didn't wake from it," Jackson told Judge Frederick H. Weisberg.

Weisberg alone will decide the verdict. A decision could come as early as tomorrow.

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