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.

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.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Kianna and Gunnar Berg

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 actually two cases, the missing siblings Kianna Joanna Berg and Gunnar David Berg.

The children, who are half white, half Japanese, were abducted by their mother, Naoko Numakami, from their Fairfax, Virginia home and taken to her native Japan. They were eight and nine years old at the time.

Naoko told Kianna and Gunnar’s father that she was just taking the kids to Japan for a vacation, but once in that country she refused to return them. He hasn’t seen them since.

Unfortunately for the kids’ father, it’s probably going to stay that way. I don’t know if there are ANY cases where the Japanese government actually agreed to return an internationally abducted child. I don’t think family courts, as such, really exist there.

Both kids are now over eighteen and could choose to go back to the US on their own if they like, but my guess is that like many family abduction victims, they’ve been alienated against their left-behind father.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Chengxu and Zhaoxu Wang

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 actually two cases, the twins Chengxu Wang (male) and Zhaoxu Wang (female). They were five when they disappeared from Champaign, Illinois on February 7, 2015.

Per the NCMEC, the twins were abducted by their non-custodial mother. My guess is she’s taken them back to her country of origin, which my guess, based on the children’s names, would be China. Though it could be Singapore or Malaysia or any country where a lot of people are Chinese.

Anyway, if the children were victims of international family abduction, it’s unlikely they can be returned unless the mother chooses it. I don’t think China has signed the Hague Convention of the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. I’m not sure any Asian country has.

Black History Month: Irwin Stewart

In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is Irwin Yafeth Stewart, a one-and-a-half-year-old boy who was abducted by his non-custodial mother, Elvia Bravo Ibarra, from Houston, Texas on November 30, 2002. Irwin is biracial; his mother is Hispanic and his father is black.

Elvia and Irwin may still be in the Houston area, or they may have gone to Mexico. Iwin would be 17 years old today.

MP of the week: Deklon Ford

This week’s featured missing person (sorry about last week, it wasn’t a good week) is Deklon Ford, who disappeared on May 6, 2015. He was only six months old at the time, and would be four years old now.

He and his mom, 28-year-old Brittany Anne Ford, disappeared together, and although the place of disappearance is given as Columbus, Ohio, they were “last known to be” in Hardin, Montana. Brittany’s car (which had Georgia plates, incidentally) was found abandoned on Highway 87 between Billings, Montana and Sheridan, Wyoming, but I’m a bit hazy as to which state it was in.

I’m not sure under what circumstances they’re missing, but they have a Facebook page set up for them, and Deklon’s dad set up a GoFundMe for search funds.