Catherine Hoggle, the 28-year-old Montgomery County woman whose two youngest children have been missing for more than two months, is not mentally competent to stand trial, according to an evaluation conducted at a locked psychiatric hospital where she is being held.
The finding was disclosed in a court filing by Hoggle’s attorney Tuesday, which underlined two very different points of view in the case.
Hoggle’s attorney, David Felsen, asserts that detectives acted improperly by interviewing her at the hospital without him there and that doing so has worsened her mental state. Felsen stated in Tuesday’s filing that for some period this month, Hoggle stopped eating, and he asked, for a second time, that criminal charges be dropped.
Detectives have said all along that the overriding goal of the case has been to find the children, Jacob, 2, and Sarah, 3, and that Hoggle has been a willing participant in the interviews — either requesting that detectives come to see her or agreeing to speak with them after they arrive.
Hoggle, who has a history of paranoid schizophrenia, has been charged with abduction, neglect and hindering an investigation. Police say she is the last person known to have seen her two youngest children, who have been missing since September. Police say she has refused to tell them where the children are. Authorities have said that they fear the toddlers are dead and that they are building a homicide case against Hoggle.
The finding that Hoggle is unable to stand trial will be reviewed by a Montgomery County judge. If the judge agrees with the doctors’ conclusion, court proceedings against Hoggle will probably be delayed while she receives further treatment.
Thursday’s filing marks the second time that Felsen has argued that detectives overstepped by speaking to his client outside his presence. Both interviews occurred before a Nov. 6 hearing during which District Court Judge Eugene Wolfe ruled that Hoggle didn’t appear to be mentally competent to accompany police on a search for the children. The judge also instructed detectives to refrain from future contact with Hoggle at least until she had been declared competent.
Authorities said they visited Hoggle in the first weekend of November because she told relatives that she wanted to help police in their search.
“Catherine requested, through her family, to speak to police. She initiated contact,” Police Capt. Darren Francke said at a Nov. 13 news conference. “Myself and the lead investigator, Detective Ruvin, went out and met with Catherine — again, at her request, voluntarily. At that time, she said that she wanted to take us to a residence in Montgomery County where the children were. So I guess we’re keeping that hope alive that the children are out there.”
In his filing Tuesday, Felsen said that experts at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital had found that Hoggle is not competent to stand trial and that the recent police interviews had aggravated her condition.
In Maryland, there are two ways mental illness can factor into criminal proceedings.
The first involves competence, whether someone understands his or her surroundings enough to understand court proceedings. Often, suspects who are ruled mentally incompetent are treated with medication and eventually determined to be competent to stand trial. The second involves criminal responsibility, often turning on the question of whether a suspect was too mentally ill at the time of a crime to understand that laws were broken. That issue has not been addressed in the Hoggle case.
The investigation has received nationwide attention in large part because of the youth of the children. Sarah’s fourth birthday is Thursday.
The father, grandparents and other relatives continue to search for the children — who have a 6-year-old brother — and hold out hope that they are alive. Relatives also have spoken with Hoggle over the phone, but like the detectives, they haven’t learned anything specific about where the children might be or what might have happened to them.