Judge questions Catherine Hoggle to determine whether she can stand trial for missing children

A Montgomery County, Maryland, judge asked basic questions to Catherine Hoggle as he attempts to determine whether she will ever stand trial in the 2014 disappearance of her two young children, Sarah and Jacob.

Under Maryland law, if Hoggle, 36, is not found competent to stand trial by Dec. 1, her murder charges must be dropped, and she would likely be held under a civil confinement.

Thursday, Circuit Court Judge James Bonifant asked Hoggle about a dozen questions unrelated to the specifics of her case to help him make his determination of whether she is competent.

Without administering an oath, Bonifant asked Hoggle for her name, age and birthday. She responded appropriately.

When asked whether she knew what evidence is, she said “It’s something that used for a case, good or bad, right or wrong.”

Bonifant asked Hoggle what attorneys do: “They either prosecute or or defend a client,” she answered.

The judge asked Hoggle what an attorney should know, and she responded “What happened at the alleged crime.”

Asked whether there were anything else, she said, “I can’t think of anything else right now. I’m not very good at public speaking.”

Hoggle said she was familiar with the phrase “attorney-client privilege.”

After a day-long hearing, Bonifant said the hearing would reconvene Nov. 23.

Doctor’s observations

Thursday’s hearing saw an unusual public discussion in which a medical health professional described the specifics of Hoggle’s mental illness, which led to his April 22 report finding her incompetent to stand trial and unrestorable.

Dr. Adam Brown, who evaluated Hoggle at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, the state psychiatric hospital, said she was able to answer basic questions about what a judge does and who her defense lawyer is.

“We would start, then she’d derail to a topic not related, and then I’d have to redirect her to the issue of competency,” Brown told the judge.

Brown and other doctors at Perkins diagnosed Hoggle with schizophrenia, major depression and generalized anxiety. Brown said Hoggle had delusional thoughts and disorganized thinking.

Once, Brown said, when he asked Hoggle, whether there was any evidence that could be used against her, “She proffered some sort of nonsense, about some sort of zodiac sign” until the conversation deteriorated.

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 that Hoggle could be restored to competency.

In Maryland, felony charges must be dismissed if a defendant remains incompetent for five years. Hoggle was first found incompetent to stand trial for the murder charges on Dec. 1, 2017.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Richard Jordan had scheduled the Thursday and Friday competency hearing; however, Bonifant informed the parties Jordan was ill, and would preside over the case going forward.

On Thursday, State’s Attorney John McCarthy asked that Bonifant question Hoggle in open court, and make his own determination of whether she is competent to stand trial.

Defense attorney David Felsen argued that even basic questions could violate her Fifth Amendment rights as well as attorney-client privilege.

McCarthy has also challenged the competency of doctors at Perkins Hospital. McCarthy wants to test the conclusions of the doctors, who repeatedly found her restorable before concluding in a Feb. 14, 2020, report that she was no longer restorable.

Although judges typically rely heavily on doctors’ conclusions, the judge, rather than doctors, makes the determination whether a defendant is competent to stand trial.

“It’s my decision,” Bonifant reminded both sides.

McCarthy added a new prong to his argument, saying the judge should be able to consider the entire case against a defendant and weigh whether her participation in her defense would make a difference.

“I don’t know what the evidence is in this case,” Felsen countered. “They haven’t presented any evidence since 2014. I don’t think there’s evidence that the children are dead. All we know is they’re not here. There’s been no evidence presented in this case.”

In a prehearing memorandum, Felsen said the record has been clear: “At every hearing, the court has taken evidence, accepted the reports from all the medical professionals, and made the judicial determination of Ms. Hoggle’s incompetency.”

“The only evidence demonstrates that Ms. Hoggle is not competent to stand trial and that she is not restorable to competency. The arguments of counsel are not evidence,” Felsen wrote.

“There is no dispute between competent experts. There is no equivocal evidence. There is no question regarding previous determinations of incompetency. Ms. Hoggle is and remains incompetent to stand trial,” Felsen concluded.

Thursday, Felsen said the judge must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, based upon evidence in the record, that his client is able to assist in her own defense.

Late Thursday morning, McCarthy called Sarah and Jacob’s father, Troy Turner, to the witness stand. Last week, Turner said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Hoggle will be found competent to stand trial.

McCarthy told Bonfant that Turner had never been questioned by doctors at Perkins, and requested to allow Turner to testify. The judge allowed it.

Under questioning by McCarthy, Turner said that shortly after Hoggle was arrested, they had discussions about her competency.

Turner told the judge, “I said ‘You killed the kids.’ She said, “I did not,’ and I told her ‘Produce the kids and we’ll drop the charges.'”

Turner said Hoggle told him prosecutors were still intent on jailing her, and she could face several years for a misdemeanor neglect charge.

After a follow up from McCarthy, Turner said: “She told me she’d been advised to remain incompetent.” When Turner asked who advised her, Hoggle said Turner knew she couldn’t disclose the person.

Felsen told the judge, “This is all news to me. The State has the responsibility to advise about statements” made by a defendant.

Bonifant called a recess, to allow prosecutors to speak with the defense and inform Felsen about any of Hoggle’s statements which may be introduced in the hearing.

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.

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