Judge to issue written opinion on whether to drop murder charges against Catherine Hoggle

A Montgomery County judge has heard arguments about whether a Maryland mother should have murder charges dropped in the 2014 disappearance of her two young children after she was repeatedly found not competent to stand trial.

But, rather than issue a ruling Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg said he will issue a written opinion about whether to dismiss the charges against Catherine Hoggle, calling it a “momentous decision.”

The judge did not say when he would deliver his opinion. At issue in the judge’s decision is whether a five-year deadline for prosecutors to put Hoggle on trial has run out.

Hoggle, who was arrested in September 2014, was the last person to see 3-year-old Sarah Hoggle and 2-year-old Jacob Hoggle alive. She was initially charged with three misdemeanors related to her missing kids, and then indicted in September 2017 on murder charges.

However, the legal process has stalled for years over questions about Catherine Hoggle’s competence to stand trial.

New doctor’s report: Hoggle not ‘restorable’

Hoggle was first found not competent to stand trial in January 2015. Since then, Hoggle, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, has been receiving treatment at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, Maryland’s state psychiatric hospital.

In every status hearing in her case since then, doctors have consistently determined she remains not competent to stand trial and unable to assist in her own defense. At various points, doctors have said she is close to regaining competence, but such a determination has never been made.

During the status hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Tuesday, a report from doctors at the psychiatric hospital said, for the first time, they have determined Hoggle is not “restorable.”

During the hearing, the judge said he appeared to be swayed by the new report. “Perkins has no desire to lie or keep her institutionalized,” he said, adding “I’m just a judge. I wear a robe. I’m not a doctor. The only evidence I have is that she’s not restorable.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said “restorability is not a consensus issue,” and said doctors should be allowed to continue to treat Hoggle, even suggesting she be taken off all medicines.

During the hearing, McCarthy hypothesized Hoggle’s continued incompetency is based on her “psychological need for protection for not allowing her to come to grips (with) the horrificness of what she’s done.”

McCarthy told the judge he’s never had a defendant initially determined to be incompetent that wasn’t eventually treated and restored to competence.

“Sometimes, it takes a long time,” he said, adding, “Everyone in this community cared about what happened to those kids.”

Hoggle’s defense attorney, David Felsen, told the judge that prosecutors are determined to continue the case until she’s competent to stand trial.

“They’re waiting, waiting, waiting. Well, we waited. And, now, we’re at the end of five years,” Felsen said.

Felsen has argued that there are many ways Hoggle could be civilly committed and wouldn’t simply walk out of the psychiatric hospital.

Disputed 5-year deadline

The key legal issue in question revolves around a disputed five-year deadline from when Hoggle was first found incompetent.

Felsen has argued the murder counts against Hoggle have to be dropped because Maryland law requires felony counts to be dismissed if a defendant has been found incompetent for five years.

Prosecutors dispute the five-year deadline on competency has been reached, arguing the five-year clock only started running in September 2017, when Hoggle was indicted on the murder charges.

Troy Turner, the father of the two missing children, also appeared at the hearing, telling the judge he wanted to represent Sarah and Jacob. At a news conference after the hearing, Turner paraphrased to reporters what he told the judge: “The fact that it’s two human beings, two tiny small human beings, my children, that were taken from me, gets kind of lost in what the story line could be.”

He called Catherine Hoggle “the woman who murdered my children” and said if she doesn’t stand trial “the justice system is failing Jacob and Sarah.”

Again, paraphrasing to reporters, he said he told the judge: “People refer to it as a mystery. There’s absolutely no mystery. Catherine Hoggle planned, and carried out her plan to murder my children.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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