ROCKVILLE — A county prosecutor on Thursday urged a judge to question a Maryland woman before deciding if she is mentally fit to stand trial on murder charges stemming from the disappearance of her two young children nearly eight years ago.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Judge Richard Jordan said he needs more time to prepare before questioning Catherine Hoggle or issuing any rulings related to her mental competence. Jordan, who recently inherited the case, scheduled a hearing in early October to revisit the matter.
Authorities say Hoggle’s 3-year-old daughter, Sarah, and 2-year-old son, Jacob, were last seen in their mother’s care on Sept. 7, 2014. Hoggle was arrested three days after their disappearance.
Hoggle, now 35, initially was charged with misdemeanor offenses. Three years after her arrest, prosecutors secured an indictment charging her with two counts of first-degree murder.
Other county judges have repeatedly found that Hoggle was incompetent to stand trial on the murder charges. Under state law, authorities have five years to restore Hoggle to competence before the charges must be dismissed.
Last September, a state appeals court ruled that the county judge must determine whether Hoggle is “unlikely to become competent in the foreseeable future” and must be civilly committed to a medical facility.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said he wants the judge to exercise his “independent judgment” in determining whether Hoggle is competent to be tried or can have her competence restored.
“It’s not a medical decision. It’s a legal determination. The person who has the legal authority to make this decision is the judge. It is not the doctors,” McCarthy told reporters after Thursday’s hearing.
McCarthy said the lawyers will provide the judge with a list of possible questions for him to ask Hoggle in October.
Defense attorney David Felsen suggested that Hoggle has a right not to answer the judge’s questions to avoid the possibility of incriminating herself. McCarthy disagreed, saying he doesn’t think she has a 5th Amendment right to refuse to answer the judge’s questions under the circumstances.
“The limitation is that whatever she says cannot be used against her if there ever was a trial,” he added.
Hoggle had a history of schizophrenia and was treated with antipsychotic medications after her arrest.
A county judge initially ruled in December 2017 that she was incompetent to stand trial. That judge concluded that she was a danger to herself or to others.
In 2019, a court order allowed prosecutors to select a psychiatrist, Dr. Christiana Tellefsen, to evaluate Hoggle. Tellefsen concluded that Hoggle remained dangerous and incompetent to stand trial. Tellefsen also noted that Hoggle was taking an antipsychotic medication that is generally considered to be a “last resort” because of its potentially severe side effects, the appeals court said.
In January 2020, Hoggle’s lawyer asked the circuit court to dismiss her murder charges. A judge rejected the request several weeks later.
A three-judge panel from the appeals court upheld the circuit court judge’s refusal to dismiss Hoggle’s murder charges. The panel said a judge correctly concluded that the five-year period for dismissal of the murder charges began with the initial December 2017 ruling that she was incompetent to stand trial.
Troy Turner, the children’s father, and other relatives attended Thursday’s hearing wearing T-shirts bearing photos of the missing children.
“We have two kids that we have not seen in almost eight years,” he said. “We are hoping to get some justice for them.”
Michael Kunzelman reports for The Associated Press.