TAMPA — Doctors have determined that Joshua Hakken, the Tampa engineer whose antigovernment paranoia drove him to abduct his children and flee to Cuba, is insane, making it likely he will be treated in a mental hospital rather than standing trial this month as planned.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe said in a hearing Wednesday that he plans to determine within six weeks where to send Hakken, 36, for mental health treatment. The fate of Hakken's wife and co-defendant is less clear.
It appears the prosecution of Sharyn Hakken, 35, will continue, although the couple's trial date, previously set for next week, has been indefinitely postponed. Her attorney has said she was bullied into the kidnapping scheme by an abusive husband.
A hearing to further examine psychologists' reports on Sharyn Hakken and pick a treatment facility for Joshua Hakken is scheduled for March 4.
"She's still going for further examinations," said Bryant Camareno, Sharyn Hakken's Tampa-based attorney. "I do have one doctor who says she's insane, and another doctor who says that she's not. It's up in the air."
The Hakkens made international news last April when they kidnapped their sons, Cole and Chase, then 4 and 2 years old, from Sharyn Hakken's mother. The couple had lost their parental rights after a series of run-ins with police in Louisiana during a road trip.
The family, accompanied by their rat terrier, slipped out of Madeira Beach on a sailboat and journeyed more than 300 miles to Cuba. They were caught by U.S. authorities outside Havana and flown back to Florida, where Sharyn and Joshua were charged with kidnapping and other offenses. The boys were returned to the custody of their grandparents in north Tampa. Joshua and Sharyn have remained jailed without bail.
Evidence released by prosecutors suggests that Joshua Hakken believed he was being persecuted because he had uncovered a secret U.S. government plot to poison Americans with chemicals dropped from airplanes.
According to a police report documenting Joshua Hakken's arrest on drug charges in Louisiana in 2012, he also told authorities there that he "beat his wife to 'bring her back to reality' because spirits would take over her body and talk through her."
The couple's saga took an unexpected turn once they were in jail, when Sharyn Hakken began a romantic relationship with a female cellmate. Her 26-year-old love interest, Tampa resident Lacrecia White, has since been released and attended the hearing Wednesday, smiling and mouthing words at Sharyn Hakken from the gallery.
From the other side of the courtroom, a goggle-eyed and despondent-looking Joshua Hakken tried repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to make eye contact with his wife.
Both Hakkens have undergone psychological evaluations since their arrests, court records show. While the results of those examinations have not been made public, Tharpe outlined the findings in court Wednesday.
During a bench conference with attorneys, Tharpe said, referring to Joshua Hakken, "He, the doctors agree, is insane."
Discussing a future trial date for the couple, the judge added, "When you say, 'set it for trial,' we're talking about her" — suggesting the prosecution of Sharyn Hakken could continue while her husband is sent to a mental health facility.
After speaking to attorneys, Tharpe set the March 4 hearing. "At that point, we will have the decision made regarding placement for Mr. Hakken, and we'll have a doctor's report on Mrs. Hakken," he said.
Joshua Hakken's attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The exact impact of the doctors' opinions won't be known until the judge decides which legal definition of mental impairment Joshua Hakken meets. If Tharpe determines he is incompetent to stand trial — meaning he does not currently have enough acuity to understand what happens in court — Hakken would be treated until he regains competency, at which point the case would proceed.
Tharpe also could rule that Hakken was so psychologically disturbed at the time of his alleged crimes that he is not guilty by reason of insanity. Such was the outcome in the notorious St. Petersburg case of Stephen Coffeen.
In 2011, a judge ruled that Coffeen — who had smothered his father — was not guilty by reason of insanity. The case gave rise to the term "Red Bull Defense," because one expert witness observed that Coffeen had been drinking lots of the energy beverage and was sleep-deprived when he killed his father.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.