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Joshua Hakken gets maximum 15-year sentence after bizarre rant; wife gets seven years (w/video)

Joshua Hakken has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, the maximum he could have received, plus 15 years' probation. [DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times]
Joshua Hakken has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, the maximum he could have received, plus 15 years' probation. [DANIEL WALLACE | Times]
Published Oct. 10, 2014

TAMPA — A South Tampa man whose antigovernment paranoia led him and his wife to kidnap their two sons and sail to Cuba told a judge Thursday that he is a prophet, sent to unite people of all faiths and warn them of the coming end of days.

It seemed Joshua Hakken, 36, had been waiting all his life for the right audience. Before a judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, the maximum under a plea agreement, Hakken stood and delivered a 30-minute speech drawing on Greek mythology, the Abrahamic religions and the latest headlines.

He had been reborn twice, survived attempts on his life and witnessed deer, snakes and foxes bow down to him, he said.

"I am Icarus," he told the judge. "I am Muhammad to the Shia Muslims. I am the … Joshua to the tribe of Judah. I am the Pahana, or the true white friend of the Hopi."

He apologized profusely to his wife for keeping this from her. But like most women presented a husband's claims to divinity, Sharyn Hakken, 36, did not appear impressed in the courtroom.

"I am the one written about in prophesies," Joshua Hakken said.

It was for this reason that CIA agents had been hunting him for years, he said. But it was when he was arrested in Louisiana in 2012 on drug charges and later lost custody of his children that he knew he could no longer abide the government's fiddling in his life. Last year, he decided to "rearm" himself and flee, stopping first to abduct his sons from their grandmother near Tampa.

Characterized as a bit player in the scheme, Sharyn Hakken was sentenced to seven years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation. With credit for time served, she could be released in about five years, her attorney said.

Arguing that mental illness played a major role in both of the Hakkens' lives and their decisions, Jorge Chalela, the attorney for Joshua Hakken, asked Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Chet A. Tharpe to give his client supervised probation.

A 15-year prison sentence would cost taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars, he said, and do little but worsen Joshua's paranoid delusions. Prison could offer no mental health treatment beyond psychotropic medications, which Joshua has refused to take, he said, adding that a state mental hospital is the proper place.

"I am not, nor have I ever believed myself to be insane. That is the prognosis of the court doctors," Joshua told Tharpe. "I do want treatment, either to make these doctors aware of the logic of my arguments and convince them that these things happened to me … or to convince me that I'm wrong and I'm insane. I feel like I'm in two worlds right now."

Still, in addition to the 15-year sentence, Tharpe gave Joshua Hakken 15 years of probation.

"You made no attempt to reunify with your children, you didn't attend any of the court hearings, you did not avail yourself of any of the benefits of a family case plan," the judge said. "Rather you and your wife engaged in an elaborate scheme to defy the law."

Last week, the Hakkens accepted plea deals that spare them federal charges. In exchange, they admitted kidnapping their sons, then ages 2 and 4, and taking them and the family dog on a 300-mile voyage from Madeira Beach to Havana in spring 2013. Found badly sunburned but otherwise healthy, the Hakkens were picked up at the Hemingway Marina and arrested. The boys were reunited with their grandparents.

Documents, including a letter the couple wrote to the Cuban government, would later reveal they believed they were on a mission to seek refuge from the U.S. government.

Federal prosecutors had threatened to press charges against the couple if they were acquitted or received light sentences in Hillsborough. Prosecutors in New Orleans wanted to pile on, too. With these prospects dangling over them, they realized there was no path to victory.

The Hakkens, both college-educated engineers, subscribed to a long list of conspiracy theories. In their letter, they claimed to have discovered that U.S. officials were trying to control Americans' minds with "chemtrails" from airplanes. They feared retaliation and said they were being spied on by the National Security Agency.

By the time their case was ready for trial, three mental health experts had pronounced Joshua Hakken legally insane, though one later reneged.

Sharyn Hakken's case was not as strong — one doctor said she was insane, and one said she wasn't. Her attorney, Bryant Camareno, planned to argue that Joshua had coerced her to go along with his plans, verbally abusing her until her self-esteem was nonexistent. Joshua had also beaten his wife, Camareno said.

On Thursday, in her own address to Tharpe, Sharyn asked for leniency. She showed the judge the scars left from the cuts she had made in her arms as a depressed teenager and politely thanked everyone who had worked on her case, including prosecutors. She had lost all evidence of her formerly middle-class life, she said, listing her home, which is in foreclosure, her ties to family and friends, and her sons Cole and Chase, who she is barred from seeing. She plans to divorce Joshua.

"Judge, I wish I could explain why I stayed in this abusive relationship," she said. "I just don't know. I don't have a good reason."

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