Charges dismissed against woman accused of kidnapping boy in Atascadero

Annette Hale appears in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on kidnapping charges on Aug. 10, 2011.
Annette Hale appears in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on kidnapping charges on Aug. 10, 2011. The Tribune

Charges against a mentally ill woman accused of kidnapping a boy from a homeless shelter were dismissed Thursday after repeated attempts to restore her competency had failed.

However, she will remain under civil commitment until she is deemed no longer dangerous.

Annette Hale, 56, is accused of abducting a 4-year-old boy from a shelter at Atascadero’s First Baptist Church in August 2011. Hale pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but her case didn’t go forward because she was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Her daughter previously told The Tribune that Hale has been delusional for more than 20 years.

Competency requires that defendants understand the charges against them and have the ability to assist in their defense. Hale has been declared incompetent on multiple occasions, resulting in treatment at state hospitals. But each time her competency was deemed restored, she would become incompetent again after being transferred to San Luis Obispo County Jail.

After she was declared incompetent last summer, Hale was transferred from County Jail to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino for treatment. But in March, the hospital’s medical director sent the court a report, saying Hale’s competency had not been restored.

As a result, Superior Court Judge Rita Federman wrote in court documents, Hale appeared to be “gravely disabled.”

Incompetent defendants charged with felonies in California are given three years for their competency to be restored.

Because Hale’s competency could not be restored, the county’s public guardian, represented by the county counsel’s office, petitioned to become her conservator, said Susan Hoffman, an attorney with the county counsel. Under state law, the conservator can make legal decisions for a resident, including decisions about medication, money and residency.

The conservatorship was granted in probate court on July 9. At that time, the court ordered Hale to be placed in a locked institution for the mentally disabled. As a result, the public guardian will now find a facility based on that order, Hoffman said.

Thursday, two weeks after the conservatorship was decided, Federman dismissed the criminal case in San Luis Obispo Superior Court over the objection of the District Attorney’s Office.

Before her case was dismissed, Hale faced charges of kidnapping, child stealing and child endangerment under circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death.

Hale, who had been staying at the shelter, reportedly left a note on a pillow belonging to the boy's mother that read, "If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Christ was raised from the dead, you shall be saved."

More than 100 volunteers and law enforcement officers searched the area, and the boy was found unhurt at a vacant car dealership. Hale, who was seen walking away from the dealership, was arrested later.

In court, Hale said she was a CIA agent trying to protect the boy, saying the boy's mother wasn't really his mother.

Defendants declared incompetent to stand trial are generally treated and restored to competency within a few months. But a very small percentage of patients never have their competency restored.

In 2004, a judge said Stephen Deflaun, a drifter charged with murder in the deaths of an 11-year-old boy and his uncle at a Morro Bay campground, would likely remain institutionalized indefinitely after attempts to restore his competency failed.

He remains institutionalized, 14 years after the alleged murders.

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