Court proceedings against a Baltimore woman accused of killing her two children have been postponed after she was found incompetent to stand trial this month.
Jamerria Hall, 28, was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of her children, 6-year-old Da’Neira Thomas, and 8-year-old Davin Thomas Jr., who were found dead inside their Southwest Baltimore apartment last month.
Baltimore District Court Judge Jack Lesser found Hall, 28, legally incompetent to stand trial at a Sept. 3 hearing, meaning she is incapable of understanding the nature of the proceedings against her and cannot assist in her own defense.
The Public Defender’s Office did not respond to requests to comment on Hall’s case Friday. A Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said she could not comment because the case is still pending.
At a bail review hearing last month, Hall’s public defender sought a competency evaluation for her client.
“She is unable at this time to assist in her own defense,” said Deborah Levi, Hall’s public defender, at the bail review, where a judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation at a correctional facility.
Hall’s case has been placed on an inactive docket until she’s found competent to stand trial.
Defendants who are found incompetent are usually then committed to a secure Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene facility for treatment, such as the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, until they are found to understand the nature of their court proceedings and can assist in their own defense, said defense attorney Brian G. Thompson, who is not involved in the case.
“Theoretically, they can never be competent” to stand trial, Thompson said.
The court must dismiss the charges against dependents charged with a felony or crime of violence after five years, if they are not found to be competent to stand trial. Offenses other than a felony or crime of violence, must dismissed after three years.
The Maryland Court of Appeals issued a opinion last year regarding competency in a similar case. Catherine Hoggle, a Montgomery County mother of two, was charged with neglect of a minor and other misdemeanor offenses in district court after her daughter, 5-year-old Sarah Hoggle and, son three-year-old Jacob Hoggle, went missing in September 2014.
Hoggle had a history of schizophrenia and was found incompetent and committed to Perkins Hospital in 2015. In 2017, the state dropped those charges against her, and on the same day, she was indicted in circuit court on two counts of first-degree murder.
Hoggle filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, but the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found Hoggle was incompetent when she was indicted in circuit court in 2017, beginning the five-year period for dismissal of the murder charges.
If Hall is later found competent to stand trial, her attorneys could seek to file a plea of not criminally responsible, which means the defendant was incapable of understanding the criminality of their conduct at the time or that they are capable of understanding, but incapable of conforming their behavior to the confines of the law, Thompson said.
“It’s a really high standard,” Thompson said.
In Maryland, such pleas are rare, fewer than than 3% of criminal defendants who plead that way are found not criminally responsible. For example, the man convicted of killing five employees at the Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018 was found to be criminally responsible in July.
Defendants who are found to be not criminally responsible are committed to a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene facility where they will remain until a court finds them no longer a danger to themselves or others.
It’s unclear what mental health issues Hall might face. No additional information about the hearing was in the case file in district court.
Hall previously talked about her struggles with depression on social media and on a podcast, where she also expressed the joy of being a mother.
“In the beginning of the 2020 pandemic I found myself going back into depression,” she wrote. “I was not able to work because my family needed me at home. Every month I had supervised probation office visits. I suffer from myofacial pain syndrome. PTSD always taps me on the shoulder and triggers my anxiety.”
In 2018, Hall was charged with arson and child endangerment after setting items, including family photos, on fire in her mother’s home. Police wrote in charging documents that Hall dismantled all the smoke detectors before setting the fire with her children inside.
She pleaded guilty to first-degree arson and received a five-year sentence with all but one year suspended. During her plea hearing, Hall told the judge that she had been a patient of a psychiatric hospital for anxiety and depression and under the care of psychiatrists.
Hall filed for custody of her two children and was granted it when their father didn’t respond to the court proceedings, records show. It’s unclear, what, if any actions Child Protective Services may have taken to protect the children. The agency has declined to provide information about the case.