Almost eight years after Catherine Hoggle’s children were last seen and almost five since she was charged with killing them, a Montgomery County, Maryland, judge said Thursday he’s not ready to determine whether she is competent to stand trial for murder.
Judge Richard Jordan said he was not comfortable judging based upon written reports, and without the ability to ask questions or learn more about the doctors’ opinions, whether Hoggle was competent, especially given that this was the first hearing in the case that he’d provided over.
“This is an important point in the process,” the judge said. “I’m being asked to conclude based on some paper. I don’t know the basis of the doctors’ conclusions; I would have to make a decision off the top of my head.”
Defense lawyer David Felsen requested the hearing after Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals rejected his argument that prosecutors had run out of time to try Hoggle for murder. However, the panel said a Montgomery County judge should determine whether Hoggle is restorable.
Felsen argued before the judge Thursday that 19 doctors’ opinions in a row found Hoggle was incompetent to stand trial. He also argued that it’s up to prosecutors to show Hoggle is competent to assist in her own defense: “There is no affirmative evidence of competency.”
State’s Attorney John McCarthy claimed Hoggle fully understood her legal situation, and was making the considered decisions of a person competent to stand trial.
“Working, considering, consulting with her lawyer — perfectly logical. These are not the actions of an incompetent individual,” McCarthy said. He asked the judge to conduct a series of questions Thursday, to determine once and for all whether he believes Hoggle is competent.
The next hearing will be held Oct. 7 — either side could call witnesses, and the judge will likely offer Hoggle the chance to participate, though she still has Fifth Amendment rights.
Hoggle has been charged with two counts of murder in the September 2014 disappearance of her two young children; her lawyer has asked a circuit court judge to determine once and for all whether her mental health can be restored enough to stand trial.
Hoggle was arrested in September 2014. Police said she was the last person to see 3-year-old Sarah and 2-year-old Jacob alive. She was initially charged with three misdemeanors related to her missing children, then indicted in September 2017 on murder charges.
With a long history of mental health issues before her arrest, Hoggle was first found incompetent to stand trial in January 2015. Every evaluation since then has found her dangerous and unable to assist in her own defense, but until 2020, doctors held open the possibility she could be restored to competency.
However, the two most recent evaluations, conducted by different doctors reached the same conclusion: Hoggle is dangerous and is now unrestorable.
In January 2020, on the fifth anniversary of Hoggle’s first being found incompetent, Felsen filed a motion arguing that the charges should be dropped. But the Maryland Special Court of Appeals eventually ruled that, since she hadn’t been charged with murder yet in January 2015, the clock hadn’t started until Hoggle was found incompetent on felony murder charges, in December 2017.
Troy Turner, the father of Jacob and Sarah Hoggle, has told WTOP he believes Catherine Hoggle is exacerbating the severity of her mental illness in an attempt to avoid legal consequences. After the hearing, he said “The hearing went a lot better than I thought it would,” saying he appreciated the judge’s wanting to learn more.
McCarthy said afterward that the judge is the appropriate person to determine whether Hoggle is competent to stand trial.
Outside the courthouse before the hearing, people held signs bearing slogans and the pictures of the children, calling for a change to the law that requires felony charges to be dropped if a defendant is found incompetent for five years. They said they think the period should be 10 years in certain cases.
There’s no evidence to indicate whether the children are alive or dead.