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Ruling on competency of Albrecht Muth, held in wife’s death, could come Thursday

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The judge overseeing the trial of Albrecht Gero Muth, accused of fatally beating and strangling his 91-year-old wife in their Georgetown home last year, could soon rule on whether Muth — who maintains that he is an Iraqi army general and his wife’s death was an Iranian hit — is mentally competent to stand trial on murder charges.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell F. Canan’s ruling could come as soon as Thursday. If he rules that Muth is competent, a trial could begin in March. If not, he could be sent for further evaluation.

Canan must consider whether Muth’s apparent mental instability is a strategic ruse to avoid the prospect of a life sentence or a sign of an illness that could prevent him from obtaining a fair trial.

During Muth’s competency hearings, which ended Wednesday after nearly a week of testimony, prosecutors presented six mental-health experts and other witnesses who said that Muth, 48, was capable of assisting in his defense.

They have characterized him as a master deceiver — a narcissistic and pathological con man who invented characters to ingratiate himself with Supreme Court justices, White House officials and other Washington luminaries for years before killing Viola Herms Drath on August 12, 2011.

Prosecutors say that Muth adopted at least seven “personas,” including a German spy and count. Prosecutors and Muth’s own attorneys say they believe that there is no evidence that the German-born Muth was ever in the military or the nobility.

Muth’s attorneys, from the District’s Public Defender Service, have said that at times, Muth is incapable of working with them. They called three experts, who testified that they believed his personas could be the result of an undiagnosed head injury, seizures, alcoholism or another medical condition.

The competency hearings at times resembled a tennis match, experts hitting their opinions back and forth. Muth’s attorneys argued that unlike defendants who feign mental illness after a crime has been committed, Muth has maintained his personas for years — to the dismay of his wife’s family and their friends and neighbors.

Prosecutors disagreed. “There is no mental illness here,” argued Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner. “There is no delusional disorder here. This is a career of cons, and this is the latest con the defendant has taken.”

Defense attorneys and prosecutors also battled over a diagnosis by doctors at the District-run St. Elizabeths Hospital, where Canan ordered Muth sent from jail after his arrest. Over about six months, doctors there maintained that Muth was not competent to stand trial.

After doctors hired by prosecutors called him competent, St. Elizabeths doctors did the same, saying they did not have the information prosecutors’ doctors had during their initial evaluations. During the hearings, Michelle Godwin, a clinical psychologist at St. Elizabeths, said her diagnosis changed after she received more information about Muth.

But Dana Page, a Muth attorney, said staff members at St. Elizabeths changed their diagnosis only after being “schooled” by doctors commissioned by the government. Canan, too, acknowledged Wednesday that he was perplexed by Godwin’s explanation for the change in the hospital’s diagnosis. “I didn’t get a straight answer from her,” Canan said.

Muth has told doctors that if he is found competent, he plans to represent himself. He has also told officials that he would seek a bench trial rather than be tried by a jury.

Should that happen, the proceedings could be colorful. Muth’s attorneys said during the competency hearings that he wants to prove he is in the Iraqi military and plans to subpoena friends and acquaintances from Washington who he believes would support his claims. Those individuals, attorneys say, could include Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and retired Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Prosecutors argue that Muth’s personas helped him access rarified circles and gain uncommon social access in Washington, obtaining choice restaurant reservations and invitations to embassy parties.

During the hearing, Muth often sat with his eyes closed and his head against the wall behind him. At times, he nodded and smiled during others’ testimony.

Doctors said that Muth has been working on a memoir and has written hundreds of single-spaced pages. He also told at least one doctor that he envisions Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon playing him in the movie he expects to be made about his life.

At one point during the hearings, an audio recording of an interview doctors conducted with Muth was played. In a thick German accent, he said he did not expect to win a trial because nobody will believe that Drath was assassinated.

“I expect to be found guilty, because there is no defense,” Muth said.

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