On Friday, a Superior Court judge sentenced Banks to two consecutive life sentences, making it likely that the 65-year-old woman will die in prison for the years of abuse she inflicted on the five sisters.
Banks, who was convicted in July of 13 counts of child abuse and two of sexual penetration by force and fear, vehemently denied the girls' claims. She sat stoically in a blue jail uniform as Judge Richard Hanscom read the sentences."I've been in this business a long time, and I've never seen anything quite like this," the judge said. "It just defies belief, but it happened."
Banks was arrested in June 2005, about a month after Moreno Valley police and Child Protective Services found the girls living in a hidden room in the garage of her two-story home, beaten and deprived of food. Banks presided over a satanic cult where the girls were taught to worship the devil and witchcraft, prosecutors said.
Banks became the girls' foster parent in 2000 after they were abused by their biological family, court records show. She legally adopted the girls in 2004.
Banks kicked them and beat them daily with cords, sticks, high-heeled shoes and belts, court records state. The girls ate spoiled food and were forced to clean the house. They had bedrooms with bunk beds, but were not allowed to use them, Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Elan Zekster said.
In court Friday, Zekster argued for consecutive life sentences. He recounted how two of the girls were sexually abused as punishment while the others were forced to watch. Zekster said Banks' sentence should be an example for anyone else who commits child abuse.
Banks' attorney, James Curtis, said two life terms would be the equivalent of a death sentence for Banks. He argued for leniency, saying she does not fit the profile of a typical sexual predator.
The girls now live with foster families and take medication to help them deal with lingering effects of the trauma, said Summer Norcia, a court-appointed advocate for the children. The youngest girls don't remember much, she said.
Two of the girls suffer from delayed development, low self-esteem and bouts of anger and rage, Norcia said. Only time will tell if they can recover and live normal lives, she said.
Zekster read a letter written by the oldest girl, now 15, who said she could not go to school, have friends or tell others what was happening in that house. Norcia said the girl functions at the second-grade level though she is in ninth grade.
"Dear Mom, it was nice knowing you, and Mom, I know somewhere in your heart you were a nice person," the girl wrote. "It was not right what you did to me and my sisters. I mean, come on, we were little girls!!!"
The Press-Enterprise does not typically identify victims of sexual crimes.
"When I was living with you I wanted to be dead. I always prayed to God to take me in my sleep," she wrote. "Mom, I want you to know that I forgive you and I will be praying for you. But mom, It will never be ok what you did to me and my sisters. God Bless you Ms. Banks."
Banks denied that her daughter could have written the letter.
"I just want to say that all the things they said about me are not true," she told the judge. "They're lies. I know it's all a lie ... I don't know where all this stuff comes from."
Curtis showed an album of family photographs, which he and Banks said proved the girls had a normal family life. He acknowledged that the evidence indicates abuse occurred, but said the girls did have a loving family at times.
Foster care agencies should have been more cautious about allowing an older woman on a fixed income to adopt five young children, he said.
"The question is not to bring in social services and point fingers, but how was it these girls came under her care to begin with? Who else is responsible?" Curtis said. "This is not some predator. She was sanctioned by this county and government. It's arguable she was abandoned by the same system."
In issuing the sentence, Hanscom ordered that Banks not be eligible for parole until she's 97 years old, because of the two counts of penetration by force or fear, which carry a life term.
The sentence includes an additional six years and eight months for the 13 counts of willful child abuse and endangerment. She was given credit for more than four years served in jail.
"There's no doubt this is a sad situation," Hanscom said. "These girls now suffer from severe problems and they had problems when they were entrusted to Ms. Banks. It's so difficult to see how anybody can treat children this way."
Jessica Banks' adopted daughters say they still have nightmares that if their former foster mother ever gets out of jail, she will keep her promise to kill them.