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Judge Drops Murder Charges Against Maryland Mom Accused of Killing Her Missing Children, Involuntarily Commits Her to Psychiatric Hospital

Catherine Hoggle, Sarah Hoggle, and Jacob Hoggle (Montgomery County Police Dept.)

Catherine Hoggle, Sarah Hoggle, and Jacob Hoggle (Montgomery County Police Dept.)

A mother accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son has remained mentally unfit to stand trial for nearly five years, leading a state judge in Maryland to dismiss two counts of first-degree murder in the children’s presumed deaths.

Chief Administrative Circuit Judge James Bonifant on Wednesday deemed Catherine Hoggle incompetent for trial and ordered her to remain in detention at the maximum-security psychiatric hospital where she has been since her arrest nearly eight years ago, authorities announced.

The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office emphasized that the court’s ruling did not let Hoggle off the hook for her alleged crimes and noted that she will remain in detention indefinitely or face new charges over the 2014 disappearances of Sarah Hoggle and Jacob Hoggle, both of whom were never found.

“This is not a double jeopardy situation,” the office said in a Facebook post. “While the judge today ruled Hoggle incompetent to stand trial, he also involuntarily committed her to a psychiatric facility indefinitely. Should doctors ever decide her condition improves and she is released, the State reserves the right to re-charge her with murder.”

State’s Attorney John McCarthy addressed the ruling during a Wednesday afternoon press conference and explained that the doctors at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital in Joppa determined over the years that Hoggle was incompetent to stand trial “close to 30 times”— never once finding her competent.

He further explained that state law provides a limited window to attempt to restore someone to competency regardless of the charges they face, saying that the statute of limitations on the charges against Hoggle would have run on Thursday.

“As a result of the statute that controls in this matter, by operation of law — and it is controlled by Maryland law and not controlled by anything that we can do here in this courthouse or at the state’s attorney’s office — the charges were dismissed against her today,” McCarthy said, calling the ruling a “very reasoned decision” despite his office disagreeing with the outcome.

Ultimately, the court reasoned that the state failed to show that Hoggle could contribute to her own defense as required under state law. Prosecutors unsuccessfully argued that Hoggle “wanted to be incompetent” and was intentionally gaming the system by misleading doctors about her mental fitness.

“We attempted during the course of this hearing to challenge those [incompetent determinations] by a careful and detailed examination of the hospital records that we think contradicted, in some instances, the conclusions reached by those doctors during those years of treatment,” McCarthy said.

Troy Turner, Jacob and Sarah’s father, spoke at the podium after McCarthy and proclaimed: “The system is broken.”

“Whenever someone can murder two children, and then be treated as a regular patient, and be given more rights than the kids or the survivors around them who they have affected, there is something really wrong. When this is allowed to move forward this way, it is a completely broken system and it needs to change,” he said. “This woman is allowed to kill two children and then be put in a hospital. She belongs in jail. Everything with this is wrong.”

Hoggle’s attorney, David Felsen, said Wednesday that the court’s ruling was properly reasoned given his interactions with his client.

“She is a profoundly ill woman. She has been an ill woman since 2012, 2013,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “She has taken medications of last resort for years, and she remains ill. And in the United States and in the state of Maryland, we don’t try people for anything, for any crime, if they can’t defend themselves.”

Should Hoggle ever be found mentally fit and released from her involuntary commitment, McCarthy promised that his office would “re-charge her with two counts of first-degree murder.

Watch the press conference below:

[images via Montgomery County Police Dept.]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.