So, about competency for trial

After I shared an article on Charley’s Facebook page about how after years of psychiatric treatment and a second opinion, Catherine Hoggle is STILL mentally incompetent to stand trial in the murders of her children Sarah and Jacob, someone was asking questions about what it meant to be competent or incompetent to stand trial, so I thought I’d talk about that cause probably more than one person doesn’t know.

Basically, in order to face a criminal trial in the U.S. you have to be mentally capable of defending yourself. The barrier to this is not very high; you can have low intelligence and be severely mentally ill and still be competent to stand trial.

You have to know the basics of what a trial is, and the roles of everyone involved: the state says you broke X Law, the prosecutor is against you, the defense attorney is for you, the judge makes sure the trial is fair and legal, the witnesses tell what they know and the jury decides if you are in fact guilty of breaking X Law. A child could be made to understand these things.

You also have to be capable of working with your defense, and this part is what causes problems for people like Catherine Hoggle, who is incompetent to stand trial because of her mental illness.

Now, Catherine has schizophrenia and every psychiatrist who has tested her competency over the last few years, including the one the government recently hired for a second opinion on the matter, agrees she is not competent to stand trial but with treatment could become competent in the future. (She has recently been prescribed Clozapine, the last-resort Holy Grail of antipsychotic drugs which can work wonders for treatment-resistant schizophrenia.)

Speaking hypothetically here, if you are very intelligent and understand the mechanics of a trial and the roles of everyone involved, but you have a severe schizophrenic delusion that your defense attorney is actually an alien from the Planet Zog who only wants your brain for the Zog beings’ Museum of Humanoid Anatomy and will suck out your brain through your esophagus if you so much as part your lips in the attorney’s presence, obviously this is going to present severe problems in building your defense. If you genuinely believe your defense attorney is not actually on your side and only wants to steal your brain for alien naturalists to gawk at in a museum, you’re not going to be able to work with your attorney to come up with a defense in your upcoming murder trial. And the Constitution says the government can’t put you on trial if you are incapable of defending yourself.

So in order to make you competent, the government puts you in a secure psychiatric facility and has psychiatrists and therapists and other mental health clinicians treat you in hopes that you will eventually become well enough to cast aside the whole “Planet Zog wants my brain” delusion at least in part. The goal is just to get you to be able to talk to your defense and assist them in whatever strategy they’re going to use to defend you, and to know what’s going on with the trial and potential consequences.

So that’s my TED Talk on mental fitness for trial. Hope you found it illuminating.

Jonelle Matthews’s remains have been found

Earlier this week, skeletal remains turned up at an oil and gas site in rural Weld County, Colorado. Today it was announced that they were identified as twelve-year-old Jonelle Renee Matthews, who disappeared from Greeley, Colorado on December 20, 1984.

The Greeley Tribune was anonymously sent photos of the remains, which they said they would not be showing to anyone, but which they did describe in their article. Per the description, “tattered red- and blue-colored clothing” was found with the body, and Jonelle was wearing a blue jacket and a red blouse when she was abducted, so it sounds like she’s been dead since very shortly after her disappearance. Perhaps that very same night.

The Facebook gods smile upon me again

So a week or so ago the Charley Project’s Facebook page inexplicably tanked and all the sudden no one was seeing the posts, no one was liking or sharing or commenting on any of my posts. Now, equally inexplicably, the page’s reach has returned to normal. Shrug. I am glad of it, anyway.

I have no idea how online algorithms and analytics and whatnot work. Sometimes I wish I did. I was reading about the guy behind the hugely popular Twitter account that rates dogs, and he makes a six-figure annual income just from that account, like from selling ad space and merch. Which isn’t to say he isn’t doing anything. He pays very close attention to the analytics and, out of hundreds of dog pictures submitted for consideration every day, he selects the one he thinks will get the most likes and shares, and then after posting a tweet he keeps an eye on it for like fifteen minutes and if it’s not getting an acceptable number of likes and shares, he deletes it and tries again with another dog, another tweet.

So anyway. The most popular story on Charley’s Facebook at present is this one about Shawn Hornbeck’s family. Sadly, Shawn’s stepfather has passed away from cancer at only 57. He had help raise Shawn from infancy and Shawn and his siblings thought of him as their father. Another really popular story is this one, about a Chinese man who was found alive and well, eighteen years after his abduction at the age of three.

The story I would recommend, which hasn’t gotten much attention since I posted it during the time Facebook was ignoring me: this one. The headline basically says it all: “A Girl, 15, Reported a Sexual Assault, Then the Detective Abused Her, Too.”

I’m sure he had other victims as well.

Missing persons news that happened while my computer was broken

Yeah, so this has been in the news:

  • They’re going to try to identify two bodies, victims of a terrible fire at a Connecticut circus in 1944. 168 people were killed and of those, five are still unidentified. Per the article: “State Chief Medical Examiner James Gill wants to compare the unknown victims’ DNA to that of Sandra Sumrow, the granddaughter of 47-year-old Grace Fifield, a Newport, Vermont woman who was at the circus the day of the fire but was never seen again.”
  • Hazel Rose Hess‘s daughter has gone on the news asking for information that could solve her mother’s 25-year-old disappearance. There isn’t much in the way of anything new in the article, however. I just found a few new pictures.
  • There’s been some news about the 1985 disappearances of Janet Shuglie and her ten-year-old daughter Marisa. It turns out someone found her class ring. They found it over 20 years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that they realized the ring belonged to a missing person and turned it over to the police.
    The police seem to think the find is significant, and they have not disclosed where the ring was found. There were several articles about this: here, here, here and here. There is a picture of the ring (is it just me or is the stone missing?) but alas, no photos of Marisa. I don’t have a photo of her either, so only Janet has a casefile on Charley.
  • They’ve found the bodies of Danielle Marie Steiner and her five-year-old son, Aubrey Hall, who disappeared from Lansing, Michigan a year ago. The bodies were discovered by a clean-up crew in a vacant house in the 800 block of Loa Street. The article notes that “At various times, Steiner and Aubrey had lived in the 700 and 800 block of Loa Street.”
    No other details have been released, except that the deaths are being treated as homicides. I’m sure their families are devastated.
  • This month is the 13th anniversary of the disappearance of Melanie Metheny from Belle, West Virginia. She went missing on July 19, 2006. There’s this article about it.
  • Doreen Jane Vincent‘s 1988 disappearance has been covered in the second season of the podcast “Faded Out.” I grabbed a bunch of photos off this article, and the podcast sounds absolutely fascinating, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to listen to it. There’s 21 episodes in the season so far, ranging in length from 27 minutes to an hour and 17 minutes, during which time I’d have to be paying very close attention, stopping the play to take notes, etc. All for one case. I wish I had the time for this kind of thing; it would benefit the Charley Project greatly. But I just don’t.
  • A suspect, Bryan Lee O’Daniels, has been charged with murder in the 1995 disappearance of Timothy Jason Smart. Apparently there were many witnesses who knew the truth, but none of them spoke up out of fear of O’Daniels. The case broke after the police got an anonymous tip last year that led to a motherlode of information.

MP of the week: Melissa Espinoza

This week’s featured missing person (I’m sorry it’s late) is Melissa Ann Espinoza, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared from Rancho Cordova, California on December 2, 1993.

She was last seen hanging out at her old apartment complex; her family had moved after a fire. The complex was in a bad neighborhood and Melissa is considered missing under suspicious circumstances and a probable abduction victim, but no suspects have been made and one seems to know anything.

Later today, I’m off to the zoo. Perhaps I’ll run into CrimeBlogger1983 again.

Three more of Terry Rasmussen’s victims identified

It hit the news today (see here on Boston 25 news and here on the Daily Beast, among other places) that authorities have identified three of the four victims found in Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire.

It’s an infamous case. The bodies were found wrapped in plastic and electrical wiring, in two barrels, close to each other: one barrel was located in 1985, and another in 2000. One young woman, and three little girls, two of whom were shown by DNA to be her own daughters. They all died around the same time, sometime between 1977 and 1981.

Now, three of them have names: Marlyse Elizabeth Honeychurch and her daughters, Marie Elizabeth Vaughn and Sarah Lynn McWaters. They disappeared from California in 1978, shortly after Marlyse started dating Terrance Peder Rasmussen. Marlyse was then 24, and the girls were 7 (Marie) and 11 months (Sarah). It doesn’t look like they lived long afterwards.

Rasmussen is a very unusual serial killer, in that he formed romantic relationships with women and sometimes even had children by them before killing them. He committed his final murder in 2001, that of his wife Eunsoon Joon, and died in prison in 2010. At the time, his other crimes were mostly undiscovered.

Denise Beaudin, who disappeared in 1981 at age 23 and listed on Charley, is presumed one of his victims, but her body hasn’t been found. She had an infant daughter at the time of her disappearance (not Rasmussen’s kid), and that little girl was abandoned by Rasmussen in California in 1985. It was the best thing he ever did for her, because as a result she was raised by a good family and apparently doing well. She has chosen not to speak to the media or let her current identity be known.

The fourth person found in the barrels at Bear Brook State park is still unidentified, but DNA proved she’s Rasmussen’s biological daughter. She was a toddler, about two to four years old when she died. She may have Native American ancestry.

There’s a good chance the little girl’s mother is also dead. Rasmussen was arrested under the name Robert “Bob” Evans for minor charges in New Hampshire in 1980, and he had a woman living with him who called herself Elizabeth Evans and said she was his wife. Perhaps this is the mother of the child in the barrel.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Alexandria Suleski

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am profiling one Asian or Pacific Islander MP for every day of the month of May. Today’s case is Alexandria Christine Suleski; her father is white and her mom is Korean. She disappeared from Radcliff, Kentucky on October 26, 1989, at the age of five.

What happened to her is known, and two people were convicted, but I don’t think it’s possible to recover her remains: supposedly the bones were crushed to crumbs.

I updated her case recently after reading Alexandria’s stepsister Nyssa’s self-published memoir, Dark Secret: The Complete Story: The True Account of What Happened to Little Alex Suleski. For a self-published book it’s pretty good, and it’s available on Kindle Unlimited. (Though you might want to skip the last hundred pages or so; the post-trial stuff dragged on and on and on.)

The book describes in vivid detail what life with Nyssa’s sociopathic mother was like, how her mother ultimately tortured and murdered Alex because she kept having potty accidents, and how Nyssa ultimately turned against her mother and testified against her in court.

Poor Alex was let down by every adult in her life. The best that can be said is that after her death, her siblings were all raised by good people, and her killers are both still in prison.

Incidentally, Alex was also a family abduction victim: her dad told her mom he was just taking her and her sister on a vacation, but never returned them, and within two months Alex was dead.