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Mother of missing kids keeps trying to escape from Md. psychiatric hospital

Catherine Hoggle, the 29-year-old Montgomery County mother suspected in the 2014 disappearance of her two young children, has repeatedly tried to escape from a maximum-security psychiatric hospital where she has been held for 18 months, according to court records.

Hoggle, who police suspect killed Jacob, 2, and Sarah, 3, has never made it out of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup. But at least eight times, according to court records, she has grabbed a staff member’s security badge, run toward the door of her locked unit and occasionally made it beyond that first barrier.

Through her hospital stay, Hoggle has said her children are safe and that she wants to see them.

“I’m loving to my kids,” she told a psychiatrist last summer, “and I’ve done everything for them every day of my life.”

Hoggle’s attempts to flee and her assurances about her children are described in psychiatric reports and summaries filed in Montgomery District Court over the past three weeks in a case that captured national attention in the fall of 2014.

Hoggle, a former waitress with a long history of mental illness, remains the last person known to have been with the children. They remain missing despite a massive search of fields, woods and roadsides by police, family, friends and strangers.

Information in the recent court filings helps answer why the case has been on hold — Hoggle has been charged with neglect, abduction and hindering, but not murder — and addresses two key questions:

Does Hoggle’s level of schizophrenia make her too delusional to take part in court proceedings? Or is she gaming the system — and using a medical finding of mental incompetence — in an attempt to avoid life in prison?

“The defendant believes that if she can continue to be found incompetent, after a period of time, the court will release her back into the community,” prosecutors John McCarthy and Ryan Wechsler wrote in court papers.

Their filing comes after more than a year of periodic reviews in court of Hoggle’s mental status and escalating disagreement between prosecutors and officials at the Perkins facility.

Prosecutors are seeking approval to send a psychiatrist of their choosing to Perkins to evaluate Hoggle. The goal, McCarthy said recently, is to “try to move this ball forward.”

He and Wechsler filed affidavits from Hoggle’s ex-boyfriend, mother and aunt, who say Hoggle is faking incompetency. “Catherine understands precisely what is going on,” wrote her mother, Lindsey Hoggle, who added that her daughter’s IQ was once tested at 135.

But doctors at Perkins have consistently found Hoggle to be irrational, bizarre and withdrawn.

“On the unit,” a psychiatrist, Danielle Robinson, wrote last year in records now filed in court, “she is isolative and guarded, and spends most of her time intently observing her surroundings while sitting in the dayroom.”

“She has a poor understanding of most legal concepts,” Robinson wrote last month, “including the purpose of a trial, the roles of courtroom personnel, her plea options and the role of evidence.”

Hoggle has needed intensive supervision, often with a dedicated staff member staying within arm’s reach, and at least twice has assaulted other patients without provocation, according to the records. Staffers recently found looped sheets in her room, which Hoggle envisioned using to help her scale an outside fence.

Hoggle’s attorney, David Felsen, said that as a state-run institution, Perkins’s opinions on mental competency are routinely accepted by prosecutors and defense attorneys — giving defendants time to be treated so they can communicate effectively and know what’s going on in a courtroom. Prosecutors should accept Perkins’s opinion in Hoggle’s case as well, Felsen said.

“This is a medical issue, not a legal one,” he said in an interview.

It is unclear when a judge will rule on the prosecutors’ request, and how that will affect the pace of the case.

If she were found competent, and if she were charged with killing her children — which officials have indicated they would do — Hoggle could file Maryland’s version of an insanity plea. It is called “not criminally responsible,” meaning that mental illness kept her from knowing she was committing crimes.

It was on Sept. 8, 2014, that Troy Turner — Hoggle’s boyfriend at the time and the father of their three children — arrived at a county police station in Germantown to report a bizarre sequence of events:

When he awoke in their apartment that morning, Hoggle and the two youngest children were missing. Hoggle returned a short time later in their minivan and said she had left the two at a new day care that she agreed to show Turner. They drove around for several hours. Hoggle asked Turner to stop at a Chick-fil-A so she could get a drink. He did, and she walked in before slipping out another door and disappearing.

For four days, a massive search was conducted before a person, who had seen Hoggle’s photograph in news accounts, spotted her walking alone on a road in Germantown. Police responded to a call and saw Hoggle, and after a short chase they took her into custody. She was carrying a missing-persons flier that had photographs of her, Jacob and Sarah.

Under questioning by detectives, Hoggle spoke only in vague terms about the children, at one point saying she had left them with an old friend identified only as “Erin.” Detectives brought in Turner to try to get Hoggle to say more, but that didn’t work. Police charged Hoggle with neglect and hindering, had her held in the county jail and days later said they were building a homicide case against her.

While in jail, Hoggle was seen by a psychiatrist. “No insight into her condition,” the records now in court state, “and denied the need for treatment.”

Hoggle was moved to the Perkins facility, where she underwent additional evaluations — speaking about her childhood, her education and her family.

Hoggle said that as a child, she was happy and had many friends. She also was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and received medication.

She played soccer, field hockey and tennis. As a teenager, she suffered from anxiety, was easily distracted and received mental-health care. Hoggle moved out of her family’s home after high school, began waiting tables, and met Turner and moved in with him. They had children in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

By the end of 2013, Hoggle had come to believe that “someone was trying to perform an exorcism on her and planned to cut her limbs off,” court records say. Twice, she was involuntarily admitted to hospitals in Montgomery County. Hoggle escaped during one stay after stealing another patient’s shoes, according to the records.

She was taken to a hospital near Baltimore, discharged in the spring of 2014 and moved to a group home. Following Turner’s advice, she said, she complied with treatment so she could move back in with him and their children.

The court filings do not address what Hoggle may have done with Jacob and Sarah and show that she seems unwilling to speak in detail about their whereabouts with her medical team. But the topic comes up.

In the fall of 2014, Robinson — a psychiatrist at Perkins — asked Hoggle about her legal predicament, which Hoggle said stemmed from having not “produced the kids for them.” Hoggle told Robinson she appreciated everyone’s concerns but said the children were fine.

“As long as my children are safe. That’s a mom’s job,” she said, according to the court filings.

Early in her stay at Perkins, Hoggle exhibited “fainting” spells, the records show, when she would slide to the ground and not get up — but she never lost consciousness. She also laughed at inappropriate times. The hospital forcibly medicated her with an anti-psychotic drug.

She also has had trouble eating, the filings say, and in her first seven weeks at Perkins lost 16 pounds.

By the spring of 2015, Hoggle showed a “modest improvement” overall, according to court records. But three months later, her psychotic symptoms appeared to worsen.

In Hoggle’s most recent assessment for the court, on Feb. 19, Robinson wrote that Hoggle had not improved and said she uses “bizarre, circuitous reasoning in conversation and regularly contradicts herself.” She was still trying to escape — four times in the previous four months, according to the records. But she seemed to have no plan for what to do if she succeeded. When told that police would come looking for her, Hoggle replied, “I didn’t think of that.”

The view that Hoggle is mentally incompetent is not necessarily held by Montgomery prosecutors and at least three of Hoggle’s family members whose affidavits are filed in court.

In his affidavit, Hoggle’s ex-boyfriend, Turner, said he has spoken with Hoggle on the phone while she has been at Perkins, and Hoggle told him she planned to remain incompetent so she never reaches trial. “She justifies it to me by saying that” their two missing children are “alive and OK,” Turner said.

The case has devastated those closest to Hoggle and her children, something that Lindsey Hoggle, Catherine’s mother, addressed in her affidavit, in which she said she believed her daughter was mentally competent but acting as if she were not.

“I am not saying any of this because I want something bad to happen to Catherine — my first child whom I love dearly,” she wrote. “I am saying this because I want to give an honest evaluation of where she is right now and, of course, because I want to do whatever I can to have her treated properly and fairly, and to do what I can to find my missing grandchildren — whom I hope and pray are alive and safe.”