Sentencing today for Moreno Valley woman in ghastly abuse case involving her five adopted daughters

Date: 2009-09-17

The Press-Enterprise

Jessica Banks' five adopted daughters lived a hidden life, beaten, drugged, hidden in a Moreno Valley garage and fed moldy food.

The five sisters, 4 to 11 years old when they were found in 2005, now live in foster homes, for the first time with families who love them, a Riverside County deputy district attorney says.

Their adoptive mother, who abused them for five years, today faces a possible life sentence after her conviction in July on 13 counts of child abuse and two of sexual penetration by force and fear. The jury deliberated less than five hours.

The 65-year-old woman may have to listen as letters written by the girls are read in court.
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Jessica Banks, of Moreno Valley, has spent the past four years in a Riverside County jail. Jurors in July took less than five hours to convict her of abuse and sexual crimes.

Her attorney, James Curtis, of Riverside, did not return calls seeking comment.

Banks has spent the past four years in a Riverside County jail. She was arrested in June 2005, about a month after one of the girls was found curled up on the pavement outside a Moreno Valley tax business. The 6-year-old had a black eye and bruises on her back.

Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez said it was the worst case of abuse he had ever seen. Court records show that the girls were assaulted with paint sticks.

"She made those little girls her slaves, not just physically but emotionally as well," Rodriguez said. "Those poor little girls are damaged forever. I pray that one day they'll be able to find some kind of happiness."

Abusive conditions

When they were discovered, all of the girls were emaciated, their eyes sunken. They had been forced to wear two layers of diapers and long dark dresses. Their hair was cropped short and they bathed in the garage, where they lived in a hidden room.

Banks beat them daily with cords, sticks, high-heeled shoes and belts, and kicked them, court records state.

The girls were fed spoiled food and made to clean the house. Their room in the garage had no heat or air conditioning. Banks, who claimed the girls were mentally slow, made them take sleeping pills, court records show.

After Moreno Valley police searched the two-story home and its three-car garage in the 10700 block of Breezy Meadow Drive, and heard the girls describe their living conditions, they removed them from the home.

Banks was arrested about a month later. She was found competent to stand trial a year later.

Banks became the girls' foster parent in San Bernardino in 2000, after they were found to have been abused by their biological family. She legally adopted them in 2004 and took them out of school shortly afterward.

The girls attended school at Word of Life Apostolic Church in a Moreno Valley strip mall, the same one where the 6-year-old was found. Prosecutors described it during the trial as a cult church where Banks led services as a pastor.

The girls reported attending séances where there were candles burning and talk of Jesus and going to hell. Two girls told a therapist that at the church they saw one sister with a rope around her neck, court documents show. The rope was attached to a wall, they said.

The girls said Banks tried to smother them with pillows.

Home Inspections

Officials with Children's Way, a private foster agency that chose Banks to care for the children, said in 2006 that they checked the home in the months leading up to the adoption and found no reasons to remove the children.

Debra Benjamin, a regional administrator for Children's Way, declined to comment Thursday.

Records of any home inspections done by the county are confidential, said Sylvia Deporto, children's services assistant director for Riverside County Child Protective Services.

A complaint of child abuse was filed in 2003, but an investigation was inconclusive, according to the state Department of Social Services. Banks was not subject to home inspections after the adoption.

After her arrest, Banks denied the charges and claimed the girls had made up the stories.

"I haven't done anything. I know I'm a good mother," she said during a 2006 interview. "I want them back. I love those girls. We had a bond together."

Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Elan Zekster said the girls are living with several foster families and doing well."They're very happy now," Zekster said. "They have foster parents that love them a lot."

Children can rebound from traumatic abuse and tragedy, said USC law and psychology professor Tom Lyon. How well they recover often depends on their age, with younger children tending to do better, he said.

Abuse at the hands of a woman is quite rare, he said. Most often, it is discipline taken to an extreme, he said.

"It's so bizarre," Lyon said. "I'm not sure anyone has an explanation for what's going on in the mother's mind."

Staff writers Melissa Eiselein and Sonja Bjelland contributed to this report.

Reach John Asbury at 951-763-3451 or


i just wanted to know why

i just wanted to know why does all the articles about this story state the adopted mother had no family? when she clearly have or had five biological adult kids of her own and she had 3 biological grand kids that she raised....i just found it interesting that none of the articles mentioned her family and why her attorney tried to portrayher as some old lonely lady with no family, who adopted those poor little girls. i was extremely saddened to hear about what happen to those girls and had to learn about this story online.

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