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Judge rules Albrecht Muth competent to stand trial

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Minutes after a judge ruled Albrecht Gero Muth mentally competent to stand trial for murder in his wife’s death, the eccentric German — who has maintained that he is an Iraqi general and his wife was killed in an Iranian hit — gave a glimpse of how the trial might play out.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell F. Canan ruled Muth, 48, competent Thursday after nearly a week of testimony.

He then arraigned Muth on charges of first-degree murder in the August 2011 death of 91-year-old Viola Herms Drath, his wife of 22 years, in their Georgetown home.

If convicted, Muth could spend the rest of his life in prison.

After a hiccup of sorts — Muth’s lead attorney, Dana Page, mistakenly replied “Guilty” when asked how her client pleaded, then said “Not guilty” after he whipped his head toward her — Muth informed Canan that he planned to fire his court-appointed lawyers and represent himself.

Canan asked Muth whether he had ever studied law or had a background in it. Muth said he had studied under Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; he had previously claimed a friendship with the justice during interviews with doctors at District-run St. Elizabeths Hospital, where he has been since February.

Muth also said he planned to subpoena Gen. David H. Petraeus, whom he also claims as a friend, as a character witness.

“I will rely on General Petraeus to serve as my defense,” Muth said in staccato, German-accented English. “I only need General Petraeus.”

Canan asked Muth whether anyone forced him, intimidated him or promised him anything to get him to decide to represent himself — standard questions posed to defendants who intend to do so.

Muth said someone had “promised” him something and said that promise was “a major reason” for his decision. Muth refused to elaborate, and Canan warned that because he did not disclose the alleged promise, Muth could not use it as grounds for a future appeal.

Canan then ordered prosecutors to provide Muth with their case information and evidence. Muth declined it.

“I don’t want any information from the government,” he said.

Canan insisted. “The government will provide the information,” he said. “What you do with it is up to you.”

A hearing in the case was set for Feb. 21. Canan has said he intends for the trial to begin in March, and he warned Muth that the proceedings — which have been delayed during months of mental evaluations and fasts — will not be held up further.

“There will be no trial in March,” Muth responded.

The mental competency hearings pitted Muth’s attorneys, who argued that their client was not fit to stand trial, against prosecutors, who said he consciously adopted a range of personas to boost his ego or meet social or financial aims. Canan sided with the government.

“Mr. Muth’s actions taken since his incarceration have been to achieve a new goal of avoiding trial,” Canan said Thursday. “Mr. Muth’s conduct has been to create the illusion of delusion.”

While Canan’s ruling settled the question of whether Muth was mentally capable of participating in his defense, his physical condition also played a role in Thursday’s hearing. When Canan asked him to stand and be sworn in, Muth said it was too “difficult” to stand and asked to remain seated.

At times, he seemed to have difficulty understanding or hearing Canan. He asked the judge to repeat himself several times.

Canan ordered Muth back to the D.C. jail.

Jail officials were processing Muth’s transfer from St. Elizabeths late Thursday. Sylvia Lane, a spokeswoman for the jail, said Muth will undergo a “comprehensive health screening and evaluation” and, based on the results, officials will decide in which unit to place him. While he was at St. Elizabeths, Muth went on at least two hunger strikes that required him to be treated medically.

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