The D.C. Superior Court judge overseeing the murder trial of a man charged with killing his socialite wife in Georgetown said Tuesday the case was “on track to proceed” after several delays in the case surrounding the defendant’s mental health.
Judge Russell F. Canan set a mental competency hearing for Dec. 3 for Albrecht Muth, 48, who is charged with the 2011 murder of his wife Viola Drath, 91. The December hearing was scheduled after doctors at St. Elizabeths Hospital, where Muth had been ordered for evaluation and has been a patient since January, last month found him competent to stand trial. Muth’s attorneys argue their client was not competent. The psychological evaluations had delayed the trial, which was supposed to start this month, to next March.
Tuesday’s hearing was to ensure that attorneys were prepared for the December hearing. In preparation for the mental evaluation hearing, Canan said he planned to order St. Elizabeths to issue a follow-up report on Muth’s competency. Meanwhile, prosecutors said they continue to present thousands of e-mails, letters and interviews to Muth’s attorneys.
Drath’s body was found in the second-floor bathroom of the home she and Muth shared in the 3200 block of Q Street NW. Muth called police and said his wife died from a fall, but a medical examiner ruled that she had been beaten and strangled.
Muth’s presence at Tuesday’s hearing was a surprise. Last week, Muth’s attorneys sent a letter to Canan requesting permission for Muth not to be present. The attorneys wrote that because of the “religious fast” their client was on, traveling to court had become “physically demanding.” Muth has been on his fast since August.
But Muth, looking thinner and moving slowly, was escorted into the courtroom by a marshal.
Then, within minutes of the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Canan called for a bench conference with Muth’s attorneys, prosecutors and Muth. For more than 10 minutes, Canan and the attorneys had a private discussion. During the conversation, Muth slumped onto the judge’s bench and his attorneys began rubbing his back. The attorneys then asked the judge if Muth could return to his seat, where he remained until the end of the hearing.
Attorneys and court officials declined to discuss the subject of the conference. Prosecutors declined comment after the hearing; a call to Muth’s defense attorney was not returned. A courts spokeswoman responded to a request for detail via e-mail, saying only that bench conferences “are called to discuss issues which are not a matter of public record; the bench conference to which you refer was no exception.”
This item has been updated.