A new psychiatric evaluation of Catherine Hoggle, the Maryland woman who has been locked in a hospital for five years since being accused of killing her two young children, found she remains mentally unfit, a blow to prosecutors’ hopes to finally take the case to court.
“Ms. Hoggle is not currently competent to stand trial and remains dangerous,” the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office acknowledged in a court filing this week, citing the findings of psychiatrist Christiane Tellefsen.
The prosecutors had retained her to provide a second opinion to the years-long assessments from doctors at the state’s Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, where she has been held, who found Hoggle was not able to aid in her defense.
Tellefsen said Hoggle was improving, prosecutors stressed, and that she is “approaching a level of understanding in which she could be considered competent.”
In September 2014, two of Hoggle’s three children — Jacob and Sarah — disappeared from Montgomery County when they were 2 and 3. Hoggle was the last person known to be with them. They have never been found. Hoggle, 32, was charged with two counts of murder.
The depths, uncertainties and challenges of treating Hoggle’s mental illness have been an issue in the case from its start.
“In the U.S. and in Maryland, we don’t try people who can’t defend themselves,” Hoggle’s attorney, David Felsen, said Friday, repeating comments he has made for five years.
But some of those close to Hoggle, including her ex-boyfriend Troy Turner, have long maintained that Hoggle, whose IQ was once tested at 135, has exaggerated the extent of her illness to avoid facing a jury. Montgomery’s top prosecutor, John McCarthy, suggested as much three years ago in court papers.
“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,” he and Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Wechsler wrote in court papers.
Around that time, they made their first request for an outside evaluation, but Montgomery District Judge Eugene Wolfe denied the request.
“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, adding, “There is nothing to suggest that the staff at Perkins are performing the evaluation in a manner inconsistent with the medical standard.”
McCarthy renewed his request this year, after the case had been moved to Montgomery’s Circuit Court. Judge Robert Greenberg allowed the evaluation to go forward, picking up on repeated reports from Perkins that Hoggle had the ability to get better.
“After nearly five years with assurances that the defendant is restorable, it may be time to have another set of eyes on this case, so that I can be assisted in making whatever determinations I need to make,” Greenberg said from the bench.
With that approval, McCarthy was allowed to send Tellefsen into Perkins to evaluate Hoggle. She submitted a report to him Wednesday, which McCarthy cited in his court motion this week.
McCarthy said Hoggle began a new medication trial — with the drug Clozapine — six months ago.
“Evidence that the defendant is improving is clear from a review of the medical records,” McCarthy wrote. “Dr. Tellefsen describes the defendant as bordering on competency.”
McCarthy suggested that additional time on Clozapine and perhaps a higher dosage might result in competency. He asked the judge, Greenberg, to allow Tellefsen to evaluate Hoggle again in several months before holding a competency hearing in December.
Felsen took issue with the new request and with prosecutors’ past suggestions that psychiatrist Danielle Robinson and other staff at Perkins had things wrong.
“Dr. Tellefsen’s report is consistent with the prior reports from Dr. Robinson,” Felsen said. “I think they owe Dr. Robinson and Perkins an apology.”
Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, declined to comment.