Expert: Urologist insane at time she killed parents — (The Newark Star-Ledger)

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The Newark Star-Ledger (NJ)

December 11, 2001


A state-hired psychiatrist concurs with defense experts that Kathleen Hagen, a Harvard-educated doctor, was insane when she smothered her elderly parents in their Chatham Township home 16 months ago.

Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Deborah Factor said yesterday that after psychiatrist Steven Simring’s interviewed Hagen several times, his preliminary conclusion “was that she was insane at the time.”

Simring also determined that a regimen of anti-psychotic drugs that Hagen has taken in jail since her Aug. 26, 2000, arrest has made her mentally competent, Factor said.

Unless Simring’s preliminary opinion changes after he reviews all the evidence, Simring and the two experts hired by defense attorney Gerard Hanlon will testify at a nonjury trial on Jan. 31. Superior Court Judge Theodore Bozonelis, sitting in Morristown, will rule on whether the once-renowned urologist is innocent by reason of insanity and should be committed to a mental institution.

Hagen, who was in court yesterday, looked nothing like the gaunt and haggard figure who appeared days after her arrest. She has put on weight and her eyes are now clear. Her bleached blonde hair has grown out gray.

Hanlon said that from the time the bodies were discovered, “It was clear to me that she was not in her right frame of mind.”

Authorities said she stayed with the bodies of her 86-year-old father, James, and 92-year-old mother, Idella, for at least four days before calling police. When officers arrived at the Fairmount Avenue ranch, Hagen, now 56, was standing on the curb, dressed in a nightgown that had not been changed in days. Her face was scabbed, as if she had been picking at it.

Hagen told police she did not know what day she killed her parents, but knew they had been alive Aug. 12, because that was her mother’s birthday, according to one detective’s affidavit released last summer.

The deaths were not deemed to be mercy killings because neither parent was terminally ill, and her father still went for walks in the neighborhood, despite kidney problems.

They fought for breath when she covered their faces, one after the other, with a plastic bag and a pillow and smothered them as they lay in twin beds, according to court papers released in June. Hagen told investigators she killed her father first.

Hanlon said she doped her parents with sleeping pills first, but that wasn’t made clear in either of the detectives’ affidavits released in June.

Hagen had moved into the basement of her parents’ home the month before the killings to help care for them. Hanlon described the living area as “total squalor,” strewn with half-eaten food, dirty clothes and books. Investigators found empty prescription bottles, and Hagen told them she had been prescribing herself an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety medication, according to court records.

She suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. She twice had been hospitalized for mental illness, Hanlon said.

Friends and neighbors said she had become more and more despondent about her circumstances, with two failed marriages and a stalled career. She had given up practicing medicine years earlier to open a hotel in the Virgin Islands with her second husband, but the business and marriage failed.

With Hagen’s mental condition greatly improved by the anti-psychotic drugs she got in jail, Hanlon worried about the time lapse between the killings and when prosecutor’s expert finally interviewed Hagen this fall.

“I was concerned about that,” said Hanlon, who had urged the prosecutor’s office to have Hagen evaluated shortly after the murders.

But Rutgers University Law Professor Sherry Colb said psychiatrists can “get a clinical picture of what was happening at that time,” by interviewing the person and evaluating the circumstances that existed then.

Colb, who teaches criminal law and mental health law in Newark, said criminal insanity defenses are far less common than they once were.

“It’s become harder to prove insanity,” Colb said. She estimated that insanity is used as a defense in one out of every 100 cases.

Hagen may not have to spend years in a mental institution if she is found innocent by reason of insanity. Her case would be reviewed every six months, and if a judge thought she was capable of living in a less structured setting, she could be released to a community-based setting, Factor said.

But Hanlon said, “I think she will need structure for some time.”

Margaret McHugh covers the Morris County courts. She can be reached at mmchugh@starled or (973) 539- 7119.

Record Number:  star20013c163f6c0