Friday, November 17, 2017
News Roundup

Tampa father found competent for trial in Cuba kidnapping case

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TAMPA — Joshua Hakken, the Tampa engineer who, along with his wife, is accused of kidnapping their children and fleeing to Cuba, is competent to stand trial, defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed on Thursday.

That conclusion comes after more than a year of debate about Hakken's mental state. Arrested in April 2013, Hakken told his attorneys that after a court terminated his and his wife's parental rights, he decided that the U.S. government had put their two young sons in danger. Operating on antigovernment paranoia, the couple took their 2- and 4-year-old boys and the family dog on a voyage of more than 300 miles to Cuba to seek asylum.

"We were subjected to multiple attacks from our own government," the Hakkens wrote in a letter to the Cuban government. "These attacks included surveillance by the National Security Agency, hacking of our personal computers, microwave radiation weapons attacks, drugging of our food, false imprisonments and the kidnapping of our two small children."

Caught not far from Havana, Joshua and Sharyn Hakken were flown back to the United States and charged with kidnapping and other offenses. At the time, two of the three doctors who examined Josh Hakken pronounced him mentally competent to stand trial, meaning he was able to understand court proceedings. One doctor disagreed.

The case plodded along until January, when it became evident that a majority of doctors had found Hakken competent. But most of the doctors also believed that he was insane when he kidnapped his children, making it likely that he would be treated in a mental hospital rather than standing trial. Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Chet Tharpe said he planned to order Hakken into treatment within weeks.

The finding put Sharyn Hakken's future in question, as her attorney awaited word of whether the state would agree to a plea deal or proceed to trial.

But prosecutors surprised defense attorneys and the judge by announcing at a March hearing that they would take both Hakkens to trial.

Citing new information, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters said then that Joshua Hakken was faking insanity to avoid prison time and that the State Attorney's Office would not agree to an insanity determination.

To date, the State Attorney's Office has not disclosed any evidence suggesting that he was acting. The cache of documents they have released includes evidence that Joshua Hakken believed he was being persecuted for uncovering a secret U.S. government plot to poison Americans with chemicals dropped from airplanes.

In June, Tharpe postponed the couple's trial until Oct. 6 and ordered another psychiatric evaluation of Joshua Hakken by the same doctor who found him incompetent to stand trial a year ago.

"Competency is something that changes over time," Justin Jacobson, an attorney for Joshua Hakken, said Thursday. "The question the judge had is whether it's possible he was incompetent back then and he's competent now."

The answer appears to be yes. All three doctors who examined Joshua Hakken now agree that he is mentally competent for trial, a finding that his attorneys are not challenging. They can still mount an insanity defense at trial, arguing that Hakken could not distinguish right from wrong at the time of the kidnapping.

The case of Sharyn Hakken, who was allegedly abused by her husband and says she was an unwilling participant in the kidnapping plot, will also go to trial. The couple are being tried together.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow her @annamphillips.

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