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.

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.

One murder trial ends while another begins

Brendt Christensen has been convicted of the murder of 26-year-old doctoral student Yingying Zhang, whose body has never been found.

Of course Yingying’s Charley Project casefile has the basics. I also recommend this Washington Post article, which links to a partial transcript of the trial. And there’s plenty of other news articles about this available.

There remains the punishment phase: LWOP, or the death penalty? (The state of Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, but because Brendt was tried in federal court he can be executed.) The defense’s primary objective, as they said from the outset of the trial, is to save Brendt from the death penalty. I have a hard time imagining how they’re going to accomplish this.

Given the recorded confession and the blood found at Brendt’s apartment, the defense in this case is waging an uphill battle with a 50mph wind in their faces. But even so, their argument strikes me as pathetically weak: Brendt totally isn’t a vile human being and would-be (or, perhaps, actual) serial killer, not at all! He only kidnapped, raped, murdered and decapitated a complete stranger because he was depressed and flunking out of college and felt like a failure!

To which I say: SO WHAT? Lots of people are depressed. I’ve been depressed since I was in middle school. Lots of people flunk out of college. Most people feel like a failure at some point in their life. That isn’t an excuse to go out and murder some poor woman you don’t even know.

In other news, yesterday John Bayerl’s murder trial began in Wisconsin (which happens to be Brendt Christensen’s home state). John’s wife, DonaMae, disappeared in 1979 and was never seen again. Suspicion hovered over him for decades before he was finally arrested early this year.

I’m a bit surprised they’re going to trial so quickly; in most murder cases (as in Yingying’s) years pass between arrest and trial. But John is 79 and not getting any younger; I suppose he’s hoping they’ll acquit him and he can return to his retirement home in Florida and die on a beach instead of in jail.

John is another absolute turd and I firmly believe he killed his wife. I just hope the prosecution can prove it.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Girly Hossencofft

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 Girly Chew Hossencofft, a 36-year-old woman born and raised in Malaysia who moved to the U.S. in the early nineties, after meeting and marrying an American, Daizien Hossencofft.

She disappeared from Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 9, 1999. By this time, she and Daizien were in the process of a divorce, as Girly had tired of his infidelity and domestic abuse.

Daizien pleaded guilty to Girly’s murder in 2002 and was sentenced to life plus 61 years in prison. He testified at the trial of his mistress, Linda Henning, who was also accused of the murder. It was a memorable trial to say the least, as Daizien said under oath that he was “a reptilian shape-shifter and capable of being in several places at one time.” He claimed Henning was innocent, but she was convicted anyway and got 73 years.

Girly’s body has never been found. Daizien implied that it was cannibalized.

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.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Phoulivay Thetsombandith

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 Phoulivay Thetsombandith, a 20-year-old man who disappeared from San Diego, California on August 18, 1991, two years after he’d moved to this country from his native Laos.

Thetsombandith was seen being forced into a vehicle at gunpoint by a group of about four or five men. He was never seen again.

Although a group was said to be responsible for his abduction, in the end only one man, Percyval Leslie Dryden, was convicted of Thetsombandith’s murder. Supposedly he mistook Thetsombandith for some guy who had broken into his car. Dryden never said what he did with the young man’s body.

It’s such a sad case. This guy moves to the US from a third-world country, hoping to have a better life, only to be gunned down by thug(s) for no good reason. And they don’t even have his body.

Victoria Prokopovitz’s husband charged with her murder

Victoria Lynn Prokopovitz has been missing from Pittsfield, Wisconsin for six years and counting. Her daughter, Marsha Loritz, was the one who started those missing persons event I go to every year. Marsha is a very sweet person, just lovely. She cries when she talks about her mother’s disappearance.

Well, it looks like answers may finally be coming, because yesterday, Vicki’s husband, James, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and perjury. James’s girlfriend, Kathryn Friday, whom he started seeing just a month after Vicki vanished, was charged with perjury and obstructing an officer.

This isn’t really a surprise; James had been a suspect in his wife’s disappearance for awhile now. I don’t know whether I should be happy or sad for Marsha. James had been her stepfather since she was a kid and I’m sure she hoping someone else was responsible for whatever happened to her mom. She always said she didn’t know what happened and just wanted to find out, find her mother.

I hope James confesses, pleads guilty and discloses the location of Vicki’s body without any further BS. Not only is he a murderer, but he basically tortured Marsha and her sister and the rest of the family for the past six years by not letting them know what happened.

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