WASHINGTON – As U.S. marshals armed with eviction papers began to clear out her town house, Benita Jacks sat on the steps leading to the upstairs bedrooms, intending to block their path, authorities said.
One managed to sidestep the 33-year-old woman and spotted the bodies of three children on the floor of an unfinished bedroom, prosecutors said Thursday. He then opened the door to another bedroom and found the body of a teenager on the floor of the bare room.
Authorities estimate the four girls — ages 5 to 17 — had been dead for at least two weeks. Jacks told police they were "possessed by demons" and had died in their sleep, one by one, within a week of each other, court documents say.
Jacks was charged Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder. She said nothing during a hearing in Superior Court, where Magistrate Judge Karen Howze ordered her held without bond. Her attorneys had argued that she should be released to the custody of an adult relative pending trial.
Jacks could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
"I don't think anyone in the city can remember a case involving this many young people who have died in such a tragic way," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said.
The charging documents identify the children as Brittany Jacks, 17; Tatianna Jacks, 11; N'Kiah Fogle, 6; and Aja Fogle, 5.
Although autopsies are incomplete, the medical examiner's office reported that there was evidence that Brittany had been stabbed, the charging documents state. There was evidence of binding on the necks of the Tatianna and N'Kiah, and evidence of blunt force injury to the head of Aja and binding on her neck, according to the documents.
Jacks told police the deaths occurred before a utility turned off her electricity, which prosecutors said was in September. She told investigators she had not fed her children for a substantial time before their deaths.
The three children were dressed in white T-shirts when their bodies were found Wednesday, charging documents state.
Brittany's body was naked but was partially covered by a white T-shirt. An object that appeared to be a steak knife lay nearby, and there was a dried maroon liquid around the body, according to the documents.
The Marshals Service carries out evictions for Superior Court.
Medical examiner Dr. Marie-Lydie Pierre-Louis said the bodies were in the apartment more than 15 days, "based on the insects that were found there."
City officials were scrambling to understand how four children could have been dead for at least two weeks without anyone knowing.
The mayor said officials were working to determine what other contacts city agencies had with the family.
"We are going to investigate every single contact that this family has had with the government, with people who are paid to look out for the welfare of children, and we will come back with a full report," Fenty said.
Nona Richardson, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said Jacks' three younger daughters attended the Meridian Public Charter School in Washington consistently until March.
When they stopped showing up, the school immediately tried to contact the mother by mail and telephone, Richardson said. Officials finally went to the woman's home and were told that she wanted to withdraw the children and home-school them. They were officially withdrawn in mid-March.
The D.C. Child and Family Services agency tried last year to investigate a complaint about the family. But investigators could not make face-to-face contact with family members and believed they had moved to Maryland, agency spokeswoman Mindy Good said.
Norris West, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said D.C. officials in June asked social services officials in Charles County, Md., to open a case for the family. However, county officials were not able to locate the family, and it is unclear whether they had actually moved to Charles County, West said.
Jacks had filed paternity suits against three men, two of which were successful, court records in Charles County show. Both men failed to pay required child support, the records indicated.