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Man who killed mother wins inheritance ruling

The Associated Press
Published: January 4th, 2008 01:00 AM

A King County Superior Court judge will determine whether a man found not guilty by reason of insanity after killing his mother and his brother should profit from their deaths.

Joshua Hoge, 37, has been committed to Western State Hospital since stabbing the pair with a butcher knife in 1999. The family won $800,000 in a lawsuit against King County after it was determined that two days before the killings, a public health clinic refused to give Hoge anti-psychotic medication. Hoge is now fighting to get a share of that money from the estate of his mother, Pamela Kissinger.

Under the state’s “slayer statute,” a killer may not receive property or otherwise benefit from a “willful and unlawful” killing. On those grounds, a King County judge ruled that Hoge could not inherit any of the estate.

But a three-judge state Court of Appeals panel rejected that decision last month, saying the lower court used the wrong standard when it defined “willfully” as “knowingly,” rather than as “with intent and design.”

The appeals judges said the killing was unlawful – meeting one test enunciated by the law – but they sent the case back to King County Superior Court to determine whether it was willful.

“The question then is to what extent Hoge’s ‘insanity’ interfered or prevented him from forming the intent to kill,” Judge C. Kenneth Grosse wrote. “On this limited record we simply cannot tell.”

Mark Leemon, who represents Hoge’s uncle, the executor of his sister’s estate, said the family wants the money to go to Kissinger’s third son, who lives in Oregon and is also mentally ill.

“The Legislature has made it very clear that they don’t want people who kill people to profit from it,” he said.

Hoge’s attorney, however, argued that the June 23, 1999, killings of Pamela, 49, and Zach Kissinger, 19, were not “unlawful”: Hoge was found not guilty. Therefore, she said, the slayer statute should not apply.

Seattle University law professor John Strait agreed.

“For all intents and purposes, there is no crime. We don’t punish people for being really sick. We don’t impose criminal culpability on people who are mentally ill,” he said. “It’s nutty logic.”

A mental health summary says Hoge was physically abused as a young child and began sleeping with a knife at age 9. He used alcohol and drugs and got into criminal trouble as a teen and was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia while in juvenile detention.

When he was hospitalized, he often threatened to kill staff and had threatened his mother and his brother.

Hoge was eventually diagnosed with Capgras delusion, whereby he believed family members were replaced by identical, malignant impostors.

Hoge could spend the rest of his life at Western State unless he is found to no longer pose a danger to the community. If that happened, he could get a conditional release, starting out in a separate, independent-living facility at the hospital before moving into the community, O’Loughlin said. At that point, she said, the estate money would be useful to pay for continuing therapy and treatment.

Hoge’s mother “knew how disabled he was, how his life was basically a living hell,” O’Loughlin said. “Think of your worst nightmare. That’s what it’s like for people with mental illness, but they’re awake. Morally, it’s not their fault.”