Prosecutors in the Catherine Hoggle case are attempting to step up pressure on Catherine Hoggle in Montgomery County District Court on Monday morning. Hoggle was in court for a status hearing, and for a fifth time in 18 months, she was found to be not competent to stand trial. State’s Attorney John McCarthy is not asking the court’s permission to bring in another independent doctor to evaluate Hoggle’s mental competency.
Hoggle has been at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center and is facing misdemeanor charges of child neglect and obstructing and hindering an investigation after going missing in Germantown with her two young children, Jacob, and Sarah, in September of 2014. The children remain missing, and Montgomery County Police and the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Office are pursuing homicide charges against Hoggle, which will move the case from the District Court to the Circuit Court, but those charges have yet to be filed.
In court in Rockville, McCarthy argued to Judge John C. Moffett that the findings of the doctors at Clifton T. Perkins run counter to the beliefs and observations which Hoggle’s husband, mother, and aunt, put forth in signed affidavits submitted to the court. As such, McCarthy is asking the court for permission to have Hoggle’s mental competency evaluated by an independent doctor to challenge the findings of the doctors at Clifton T. Perkins.
In an unusual move, for a status hearing, McCarthy asked Troy Turner, the father of the missing children, informally address the court with information from a phone conversation with Catherine Hoggle. Defense attorney David Felson objected to Turner bearing witness in court at a hearing without being under oath and having to undergo cross-examination.
However, Moffatt allowed McCarthy and Turner to proceed. Turner told the court that in a phone conversation with Hoggle, she stated that had done the math based on the charges against her and the time she has already been in Perkins if she stays non-competent it is better for her. She would rather be at the hospital than in jail.
Felson told the court that the State’s Attorney was putting faith in an argument in which lay people, with an expressed bias, say that they know Hoggle better than the treating doctors and staff. He pointed out that up until now, the State did not have any problems with the conclusions of the evaluating doctors, but now the State is challenging those conclusions based on information from lay people.
Judge Moffett set an inquiry hearing date for Monday, April 25 at 9:00 am in Montgomery County District Court. He said the State may make a motion for an additional psychiatric evaluation, and expects the authors of the three affidavits to be deposed and available for the hearing. He also told both parties to expect that this all-day hearing might go over into Tuesday, April 26 and to be prepared to be in court.
After Monday’s hearing State’s Attorney John McCarthy met with media outside of the courthouse. “There are some statements in the report from the doctors at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital that should be challenged and should be explored in open court,” said McCarthy. “Our request today was essentially that the court set in, open court, a hearing that would allow us to explore the conclusions reached by the evaluating doctor at Clifton T. Perkins and that the judge himself or herself be able to explore – on the record — which is totally appropriate, questions with the defendant herself about whether she is competent to stand trial. We have also asked for the opportunity to hire an independent doctor. If you look at Maryland case law, the Clifton T. Perkins reports are not the state’s reports. It is a state hospital, but the doctors are independent, and we believe that we are entitled, as a matter of law, to an independent evaluation, and that is what we seek.”
McCarthy’s argument is that Hoggle had been improving and based on past experiences when she has been placed in treatment, she has been restored to competency as long as four months and as short as 30-days. He said it now 18 months.
“In open court, I discussed some observations and discussions that were reached in the report,” said McCarthy. “The report says that she did not understand the charges against her. However, do I believe that whether it was with Troy or her mom, that she has explored with some high level of sophistication the charges against her. So, those conclusions are not borne out.”
“As it stands now it is going to be 20 months since anyone has seen these children,” said McCarthy. “I think 20 months is enough. Let’s go into court and try to move this ball forward. I think we have a fair and rational basis for asking the court to set this inquiry hearing.”
Hoggle’s attorney David Felson told reporters, “For whatever reason the State has decided to challenge the opinion of the State’s doctor. This is not someone that we have contact with, nor that we pay. This person is on the state’s payroll, and whether we look at them as the State’s doctor or an independent evaluator, an independent evaluator has determined that Ms. Hoggle is not competent. I need to be clear on this. There is more to competency than simply being able to say who your lawyer is, or what does the judge do? Competency involves the ability to internalize information, to be able to make decisions, and to have a clear way of thinking.”
Felson continued, “For five hearings and five evaluations, six evaluations if you included that time that my client was at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, – for six evaluations that has been a consistent on-going diagnosis. Mr. McCarthy is saying that when she has been incompetent before she has been returned to competency in four months. I don’t know if that is true and I don’t think the medical records bear that out. But regardless, an independent doctor is saying that she isn’t.”
“Family members have filed affidavits in this case saying that, in their opinion my client can answer questions about ‘who is the judge, and who is her lawyer.’ They say nothing about her psychosis. They say nothing about her ability to understand to think or her confused thinking. They don’t address that at all.”
“The evaluation that is going to set in 60 days is going to be, essentially, the argument that you see here. The state is going to get their doctor to say what they want, and we will be back arguing. I understand the family’s position, we have sympathy for the family but in terms of the facts-on-the-ground and where our client is mental-healthwise, we don’t think anything has changed.”
Some of those facts include that two children are missing, and Felson said that this process is not about the children. “This process, with all due respect to the family, is not about the location of the children or what happened to the children. This process is about sanctioning Ms. Hoggle for what she may have done or may not have done. That is the issue that is before the court.”
When asked if he knows if Hoggle knows where the children are Felson said, “I don’t know whether she knows or doesn’t know.”
Felson questioned the motives of Catherine’s mother, Lindsey Hoggle, Troy Tuner, and aunt in submitting the affidavits. “The affidavits are not relevant to the issue that the doctor has found to be the issue with competence and that relates to psychosis, ability to think, ability to structure ideas. The affidavits don’t speak to that,” said Felson. “More importantly, these affidavits were created with the assistance of private counsel. In other words, those who have drafted the affidavits — and you’ll have to ask those people what your desires and intentions are — they went and found a lawyer to help them write the affidavits, to give them to the State, to challenge the doctor.”
McCarthy took issue with Felson characterization. “There are a lot of people in this community that care about Sarah and Jacob. And there are a lot of people that volunteered to support this family and their efforts to get to the bottom of what happened to those children. Many people including an attorney who was a football buddy friend of Troy’s, who happens to be an attorney in Montgomery County. The fact is that a friend, someone who played football with him at Seneca Valley High School helped him get some information together that they thought would be helpful in this case. We should be honored that members of this community are willing to help this family, and in preparing these affidavits there was absolutely nothing wrong with someone helping a friend put some information together that might help him find his children. It is unfair to suggest otherwise.”
Asked why he hasn’t charged Hoggle with murder, McCarthy declined to speak about this case but said charging with a more serious crime at this point would eliminate his ability to use a grand jury in a fact-finding capacity.
“It is a matter of law,” said McCarthy, “that if you seek an indictment, you lose the grand jury as an investigative body, sometimes people don’t want to provide information to us freely, and we turn to the use of the grand jury to investigate matters. There does not seem to be any logical or rational reason to rush to any kind of charge. Leaving the grand jury as a tool for us is a common sense tactic that will allow us to potentially mine information if it develops. There is no reason to foreclose that option.”
Felson has argued if the misdemeanor charges will never go to trial; his client should be released.
Top: Catherine Hoggle. Photo courtesy MCPD.
Next: Hoggle’s attorney’s David Felson and John Sargent addressing the media after the status hearing Monday morning.
Next: Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy speaks to reporters, Troy Turner, Lindsey Hoggle and other family members listen.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.