On Tuesday — while appearing before a judge who over the next few weeks will weigh whether to dismiss murder charges against Hoggle in the case — Turner got a chance to speak in court.
Hoggle sat just 15 feet away.
“I’ve heard people refer to it as a mystery. There is no mystery. Catherine planned, carried out a plan, and killed my children,” Turner said, his voice choking. “Right now, the person who murdered them, I’m looking at her.”
At issue Tuesday was a complicated legal question on how long a criminal defendant like Hoggle can be held in Maryland while she has been ruled mentally unfit for trial of her children. Under current Maryland law, a person charged with a felony can be held in a mentally incompetent posture for no more than five years, at which point charges must be dismissed.
Hoggle’s defense attorney David Felsen argued the deadline passed on Jan. 10, five years from the time Hoggle was determined to be mentally incompetent after her initial arrest on misdemeanor neglect and hindering charges.
“In this country, we don’t try people who can’t defend themselves,” Felsen said.
Montgomery County’s top prosecutor, John McCarthy, said the duration will not be up until Dec. 1, 2022, the five-year anniversary of Hoggle being ruled incompetent after her charges were elevated to two felony counts of murder.
Over the past five years, Maryland state psychiatrists have repeatedly concluded that Hoggle — who has a history of paranoid schizophrenia — is mentally incompetent to stand trial because she can’t understand her surroundings well enough. But they also viewed her as “restorable.” In a new opinion reached Friday, according to Tuesday’s proceedings, a state psychiatrist opined that Hoggle is no longer restorable. That is the first such opinion in the case, according to McCarthy and Felsen.
No matter how Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg rules, Hoggle is hardly expected to be released any time soon from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup. She instead would probably be ordered held there on a civil commitment.
That would be a shift, though, that Turner and McCarthy fear would ultimately make it easier for her to be released. Under a civil commitment, the hospital would have authority to keep her as long as they deemed her a danger to herself or others, according to Felsen and McCarthy.
“She’s possibly going to walk free one day,” Turner said in court, adding, “These are my babies. And Catherine killed them.”
Greenberg heard arguments from Felsen and McCarthy for an hour on Tuesday.
“These are weighty issues,” the judge said, indicating he’d issue a written opinion soon. Assessments that Hoggle is no longer “restorable” related to her mental competency could play a factor in whether Greenberg directs Hoggle to be civilly committed, according to questions he asked the attorneys on Tuesday.
Turner has spoken about his fears that if Hoggle is released, she would target the third child they had together. It is a concern he shared with the Maryland legislature in a bid last year to change state laws to extend the time someone in Hoggle’s position could be held without a trial.
“I have a 10-year-old, who was 5 when his brother and sister went missing, who is scared to death that his mother is going to come find him one day,” Turner told a committee last year in an effort that ultimately fell short.
The surviving boy “still has nightmares about her showing up with the bodies of his dead brother and sister,” Turner added in court on Tuesday. “He can’t defend himself if she’s out there.”
The crossroads in the Hoggle case play out all the time around the country, according to Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt Law School professor and expert in the field. Courts hold that the government gets a reasonable amount of time to treat a defendant to the point of mental competency, he said, but as a medical matter that should take no more than a year.
At some point, a person who cannot be made competent is afforded the basic constitutional right to either be released or civilly committed to a mental hospital, according to Slobogin.
In cases like Hoggle’s — she is not only accused of killing her young children, but she is also accused of refusing to tell detectives where their bodies are — legal reality doesn’t inherently make sense, Slobogin said.
“I understand where Joe Public is coming from. They’re thinking she probably did this horrible thing, she’s probably dangerous,” he said.
Slobogin stressed, though, that shifting someone like Hoggle to a civil commitment will effectively keep her situation unchanged.
“If she remains dangerous, she could stay committed forever,” Slobogin said.
As for the hospital having the authority to release someone like Hoggle, Slobogin notes, that’s the way it should be. Research consistently shows those who commit violence that stems from mental illness are less likely — under proper treatment — to repeat their crimes than others, he said.
In the case of Hoggle — a former waitress with an IQ once tested at 135 — Turner and other family members have alleged over the years that she has been faking the depths of her mental illness to stay out of state prison.
McCarthy said the shift to a civil commitment could change the control prosecutors and the court have in the case. He cited three reasons: It’s not a judge who decides whether she should be released, it’s Perkins; McCarthy would have no legal standing to make recommendations; and he would no longer have access to Hoggle’s psychiatric evaluations.
“If she is civilly committed, I have no control over her, nor do I have any access to information,” McCarthy said. “If they determine she is no longer a danger, they have to let her loose.”
Perkins had 281 patients as of last week, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Most had been ordered there by a judge in a pending criminal case. Only eight were being held based on civil commitments. Those eight have been at Perkins anywhere from one to eight years, according to the spokeswoman.
To McCarthy, that indicates that those who get civilly committed to Perkins are not necessarily there for lengthy stays. “I find those numbers frightening,” he said.