Judge: New doctor can test Hoggle competency to stand trial for kids’ deaths

A Montgomery County, Maryland, circuit court judge has granted a prosecution request to allow a new psychiatrist to evaluate whether Catherine Hoggle is competent to stand trial for the killings of her children.

Hoggle was arrested in September 2014 and charged with three misdemeanors in connection with the deaths of 3-year-old Sarah and 2-year-old Jacob, who were last seen with their mother. Hoggle has repeatedly been found not competent to stand trial, while being tested by doctors at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital in Jessup, Maryland.

Judge Robert Greenberg said he had found previous evaluations of Hoggle’s incompetency by Dr. Danielle Robinson “well-researched and nuanced — she is not a partisan.”

But, “after nearly five years, it may be time to have another set of eyes,” and “another evaluation can only assist the court in determining competence,” Greenberg said in announcing his ruling.

“The public has a strong interest in seeing this case go to trial,” the judge said, and, “this is not a run-of-the-mill case, since it involves the murder of two small children.”

Before announcing his ruling, Greenberg said Maryland Code grants the judge the responsibility of determining competence, based on evidence presented on the record.

While in most cases, judges rely heavily on the opinions of mental health providers, Greenberg said he has “concerns about allegations from family members that the patient is malingering,” and Greenberg did not see that tests to measure whether somebody was feigning mental illness had been administered.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy told Greenberg he had retained psychiatrist Christiane Tellefsen in the event the judge granted prosecutors the chance to get a second opinion.

“Ultimately, the decision of whether someone is competent or not is up to the judge,” McCarthy told reporters after the ruling. “What a doctor finds is not necessarily binding, whether it’s Dr. Robinson or Dr. Tellefsen. The person who makes the decision is the judge.”

Hoggle listened to the judge’s ruling with her hands clasped on the defense table, next to her attorney David Felsen.

“There have been several sets of eyes that have looked at Ms. Hoggle,” Felsen told reporters. “No one has ever questioned that Ms. Hoggle has profound mental health issues.”

“There have been several doctors that have found she is incompetent and a danger,” said Felsen, adding he expects future evaluations to yield similar results.

“If that’s not the finding from the state’s hired expert, I sort of think that will be an outlier,” Felsen said. “If everybody else is saying one thing, but a hired expert is saying another, the court will have to look at it, and see why.”

Immediately after the ruling, McCarthy shook hands with Troy Turner, the father of Sarah and Jacob Hoggle. He told reporters he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“She’s been malingering, and just basically been tricking the system, to try to avoid paying for what she’s done,” Turner said. “When you’re dealing with facts and the truth, the more information you have, the more the truth will come out.”

The judge’s decision, Turner said, came on what would have been his son’s seventh birthday. “Looking at the woman who murdered my children,” he said, “I guess in some ways this is a birthday gift for him.”

In announcing his ruling, Greenberg mentioned the case may be subject to dismissal in September. Under Maryland law, misdemeanor charges must be dismissed against a defendant who is found incompetent to stand trial for a period of three years, while felony charges must be dismissed after five years.

In 2017, as a three-year deadline approached, Montgomery County prosecutors indicted Hoggle for the killings, even though the children’s bodies had never been found.

WTOP has learned Hoggle’s attorney could file a motion to have her murder charges dismissed after Sept. 15 — five years after she was charged with her third misdemeanor.

At issue: Did Hoggle’s indictment on felony charges in 2017 start a “new clock” for prosecutors? Or, is she entitled to have her felonies dismissed five years after she was initially arrested on misdemeanor counts?

Prosecutors and defense lawyers have not found earlier Maryland cases that exactly mirror Hoggle’s circumstances, sources said.

After the judge’s ruling in court, and a discussion in chambers with the prosecution and the defense, McCarthy said the order will set a deadline of Aug. 15 for any additional evaluations to be conducted by any expert.

A trial date has not been set.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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