For three years, Troy Turner held out hope his children were alive — a belief he knew ran counter to logic.
Jacob, 2, and Sarah, 3, hadn’t been seen since they disappeared from Montgomery County in September 2014. The last person known to be with them — their mother and Turner’s then-girlfriend, Catherine Hoggle — suffered from deep mental illness. Detectives quickly viewed her as responsible for the children’s deaths.
“There has always been a faint hope,” Turner said Friday. “And I know now, with the passage of time, that Catherine killed my babies.”
Turner spoke to reporters after a hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court, a proceeding prompted by an indictment the day before charging Hoggle, 30, with two counts of murder. Those charges confirmed repeated indications from police and prosecutors during the long-running case of the children’s fate.
“I know that they are right,” Turner said. “And I fully support the charges.”
Since 2014, Hoggle has been locked in a state psychiatric hospital, held on misdemeanor charges of neglect, abduction and hindering in connection with Jacob and Sarah’s disappearances. Doctors have said she is not mentally fit to participate in a trial.
The murder charges prompted a review of her bond conditions, and on Thursday, Hoggle was driven by law enforcement from the maximum-security Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, in Jessup, Md., to the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville. For Friday’s hearing, she appeared via a video feed from the jail. She said little and stared blankly from the screen into the courtroom.
Her attorney, David Felsen, and the county’s lead prosecutor, John McCarthy, agreed that Hoggle should be sent back to Perkins for further evaluation and treatment.
“They’re trying to look for that cocktail of medications that will create synthetic competency, so that we can move forward on these matters,” McCarthy said.
“There is no question that she belongs in a hospital,” Felsen said after the hearing and also said Hoggle deserves a vigorous defense. “We’re not aware of any evidence linking Ms. Hoggle with any homicide.”
A former waitress with an IQ once tested at 135, Hoggle has refused to tell detectives and family members what might have happened to Jacob and Sarah. It is difficult to say when, or if, she would be found well enough to go to trial.
Hoggle’s mother, Lindsey Hoggle, also attended the court hearing Friday.
After, she said she believes that her two grandchildren are still alive and that her daughter worked with others under a plan to flee the area with her children.
“I don’t think she’s guilty of murder,” Lindsey Hoggle said.
She has not been able to visit her daughter at Perkins, she said, because Catherine Hoggle has not put her on a visitor list. Lindsey Hoggle said she last spoke to her daughter by phone during a six-month stretch in 2016.
“This needs to be resolved,” Lindsey Hoggle recalled telling her, adding that when she asked about the children, Catherine would say simply: “They’re safe.”
The case of the Hoggle children burst into the open in the fall of 2014, when Montgomery police officials held a news conference asking for the public’s help in a harrowing hunt they’d just started: Three people were missing, a mother and her two young children. At the time, Turner was desperately trying to find all three.
Several days later, police spotted Hoggle walking alone down a street in Germantown. She tried to run but was quickly taken into custody. Hoggle wouldn’t tell police where the children were, according to arrest records. She was charged with the misdemeanor counts, placed in the county jail, and later transferred to Perkins. Once she was hospitalized, the legal case against her slowed.
Prosecutors also weren’t in a hurry, given that they probably would face the challenge of proving a murder case with absent bodies. Experts on such “no-body” murder trials say the more time that passes without the victims being found alive, the easier it can be for prosecutors to convince a jury that the victims must have been killed.
The murder charges Thursday against Hoggle were prompted by a looming legal deadline. Her original misdemeanor charges carried a three-year limit on how long someone can be held while designated as mentally unfit for trial, McCarthy said.
The new charges — much more serious felonies — mean Hoggle can be held for an additional five years while being designated mentally incompetent, according to McCarthy. He said he hoped that with the right treatment and medication, Hoggle could be restored to competency and taken to trial on the murder counts.
The issue of competency is one of two large areas of criminal law and mental health in Maryland.
The second is the insanity defense, which holds that if a person was so mentally impaired during the commission of crime that he or she didn’t know they were breaking the law, the suspect can be declared not criminally responsible. For such defendants, being found not criminally responsible can mean the difference between staying in a psychiatric hospital rather than a prison.
Felsen said no decision has been made about whether to pursue a “not criminally responsible” defense.
“The issues of criminal responsibility — whether for misdemeanors or felonies in this case — are certainly on the table,” Felsen said.