That day, Muth, 48, charged with killing his 91-year-old socialite wife, Viola Herms Drath, stopped eating — resuming what prosecutors say has been a series of hunger strikes intended to stall justice.
Muth, an eccentric German native who masqueraded as an Iraqi general, a spy for several countries and European nobility, entered the D.C. jail in August 2011 as a strapping man who stood more than 6 feet tall. Over the months, he has withered to 104 pounds. He is now confined to a hospital bed at United Medical Center and, his doctor testified, is at risk of cardiac arrest and organ failure.
On the outside, Muth sought to move among Washington’s elite — government officials, top journalists and foreign dignitaries — fooling some with his military uniform, swagger stick and big talk. In custody, prosecutors say, he is trying to control the legal process.
“He’s trying to manipulate the court system,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn L. Kirschner recently argued in court.
Muth’s trial was supposed to start Monday, but Canan reluctantly agreed last week with prosecutors and defense lawyers, who said they could not go forward given Muth’s poor health. The judge pushed the trial to December — the second time it has been delayed.
“This is an unusual circumstance,” Canan said at a recent hearing. “We are in uncharted territory.”
Drath, a former journalist and author, was found dead in August 2011 in the second-floor bathroom of a Georgetown home she shared with Muth, her husband of 22 years. Muth called police and said she had died from a fall, but a medical examiner ruled that Drath had been strangled and beaten.
Muth has said that he is innocent and that his wife was killed in an Iranian hit. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
From the start, Muth’s court proceedings have been unusual. In his first appearance after his arrest, Muth spoke loudly, telling the judge that he chose to represent himself. He said he wanted to wear his Iraqi uniform — which prosecutors said he purchased via the Internet from a shop in South Carolina — during the trial.
As the case proceeded, doctors at St. Elizabeths, the District’s psychiatric hospital, initially found that Muth was not mentally competent to stand trial. But after further examination and an opinion from an outside doctor, the judge ruled that Muth was competent. It was then, prosecutors said, that Muth began his most recent fast.
Since he began his hunger strikes, Muth has eaten sporadically, his doctor, Russom Ghebrai has testified. When his health worsens, his doctor says, he will eat a little or drink some juice.
Canan ruled last month that because of Muth’s fasting, he could no longer represent himself and reappointed public defenders, whom Muth had fired months earlier.