Montgomery County prosecutors seeking to learn the fate of two children missing for 19 months will not be permitted to send a psychiatrist of their choosing into a locked psychiatric hospital to evaluate the children’s mother, according to a court ruling this week.
The latest development in the case of Catherine Hoggle, 29, who is suspected of killing Jacob, 2, and Sarah, 3, underscores the escalating battle between law enforcement and Hoggle’s attorneys.
And it is playing out against a heartbreaking backdrop. Despite massive searches of woods, parks and roadsides, there has been no sign of Jacob and Sarah since September 2014. Their mother, with a history of paranoid schizophrenia, is the last person known to have been with them.
Police have pushed hard in the case against Hoggle, maintaining that finding the children is paramount. When police arrested Hoggle, they interrogated her for more than 12 hours and brought in her boyfriend to help them press her as they all repeatedly posed different forms of the same question: Where are the children? Weeks later, after Hoggle was moved from the county jail to the state’s maximum-security Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, Md., the detectives visited her and spoke with her for more than an hour without her attorneys present.
Hoggle’s two attorneys have tried to shield her from the advances.
“She’s an ill person in need of protection,” attorney David Felsen said Friday. “Creating exceptions creates bad law and does not do justice.”
Prosecutors said they will continue to explore whether Hoggle is exaggerating her mental illness.
“For the sake of Jacob and Sarah, we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to uncover the truth,” said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Montgomery County state’s attorney’s office.
The recent issue — whether a psychiatrist chosen by prosecutors could evaluate Hoggle — centered on the concept of mental competence, which holds that criminal defendants cannot participate in court proceedings if they do not understand the proceedings and cannot effectively communicate with their counsel.
Since Hoggle has been at Perkins, doctors there have maintained that she is mentally incompetent. With proper treatment, the doctors have said, there is a good chance that her mental state will improve enough for her to participate in a court process.
That long-standing assessment by Perkins staff has put the case on hold, even as periodic searches continue for the children. In 2014, Hoggle was charged with counts of abduction, neglect and hindering. She has not been charged with murder, although police have long said they are building that case against her.
By February of this year, prosecutors had grown weary of waiting. In an unusual move, they requested that a judge allow them to send a doctor they chose into Perkins to gauge whether Hoggle is mentally competent.
The goal, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said at the time, was to “try to move this ball forward.”
As part of the prosecutors’ request, they submitted affidavits from Hoggle’s now ex-boyfriend, who is the children’s father, and from her mother and an aunt — all of whom said Hoggle knew what was going on in the legal case and was trying to manipulate the system. Prosecutors also said that Perkins doctors were not spending enough time evaluating Hoggle for competence in one-on-one sessions compared with the time they were spending treating her.
In the ruling Thursday, Montgomery County District Court Judge Eugene Wolfe said prosecutors had not established that there was anything wrong with the Perkins doctors’ actions.
“The defendant is being evaluated by a team of medical professionals at Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital and their opinion of the defendant’s competency has been unanimous,” Wolfe wrote. “The defendant is undergoing twenty-four hour supervision by staff at Perkins and has a staff member with her at all times. There is nothing to suggest that the staff at Perkins are performing the evaluation in a manner inconsistent with the medical standard.”
Wolfe also ruled that the affidavits from Hoggle’s relatives and ex-boyfriend about their assessment of Hoggle’s mental acuity did not bear on the matter at hand.
“Competency to stand trial is a medical issue and an opinion as to the medical fact of competence to stand trial should be reached by a medical diagnosis,” Wolfe wrote.
Prosecutors at the Montgomery County state’s attorney’s office will keep asking questions of Hoggle, said Korionoff, the spokesman.
“The state remains concerned about the defendant’s possible malingering,” he said. “Although the judge has denied the state’s request for an independent evaluation, there will be other opportunities to challenge Ms. Hoggle’s competency status to stand trial.”