TAMPA — Joshua Hakken, the Tampa engineer accused of kidnapping his children and fleeing to Cuba, is faking insanity to avoid prison time, a prosecutor asserted Tuesday.
The surprise claim derailed an anticipated resolution to the case, as a judge ordered Hakken to stand trial rather than receiving psychiatric treatment. His wife and co-defendant, Sharyn Hakken, will also face a jury.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe scheduled a two-week trial for the Hakkens beginning June 16. The couple is charged with kidnapping their two young sons last year after their parental rights were terminated, then crossing the Straits of Florida on a sailboat.
In January, Tharpe said in a court hearing that multiple doctors had examined Joshua Hakken and agreed that he was insane. The judge said then he planned to order Hakken into mental-health treatment within weeks, rather than letting his criminal case proceed.
But on Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters said she had obtained evidence from Joshua Hakken's jailhouse phone calls that he was malingering in an effort to avoid his trial, and that the State Attorney's Office would not agree to an insanity determination.
"Mr. Hakken is feigning insanity," Peters said, citing only "additional information that has developed since the last court date" from his jail conversations.
Peters declined to comment further on the new evidence after the hearing. State Attorney's Office spokesman Mark Cox also declined to comment, saying his office was preparing to release documentation of Hakken's incriminating communications to defense attorneys and the media.
Sharyn Hakken's attorney, Bryant Camareno of Tampa, said he had not seen the new evidence and was unprepared for Tuesday's turn of events. "In all honesty, it caught me by surprise," Camareno said.
Joshua Hakken's Tampa-based attorney, Jorge Chalela, declined to comment.
Tharpe appeared frustrated as he set a trial date, hinting that Sharyn Hakken — who was allegedly abused by her husband and asserts she was an unwilling participant in the kidnapping scheme — was on track to receive a plea deal once Joshua was ordered into psychiatric treatment.
"Y'all came to me once and you assured me, because of things that were going on, that this would not be a trial," the judge said.
Efforts to fake mental illness are fairly common among defendants, said Dr. Phillip Resnick, a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
"It's not infrequent to try," Resnick said. "Some studies suggest anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of criminal defendants try to exaggerate psychiatric symptoms or make them up."
However, he added, "It's not common to succeed" in fooling doctors appointed by the court, such as those who determined Joshua Hakken was insane.
The last-minute claim that Hakken is malingering was all the more surprising because of extensive evidence that has emerged indicating he suffers from severe mental illness.
During an incident at a motel in Louisiana in 2012, Hakken, 36, told police he "beat his wife to 'bring her back to reality' because spirits would take over her body and talk through her" and that he and his family were on "a journey to Armageddon."
The same night, Sharyn Hakken, 35, told officers she was a ninja in the witness protection program.
A Louisiana court terminated the Hakkens' parental rights after Joshua Hakken was accused of showing up with a gun at a foster home where his children had temporarily been placed. In April 2013 the Hakkens are accused of abducting their sons, Cole and Chase, then 4 and 2 years old, from Sharyn Hakken's mother in North Tampa.
The subsequent kidnapping investigation revealed that Joshua Hakken had believed for years that the federal government was performing mind-control experiments on him. An FBI assessment called his ideas "paranoid and delusional."
News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.