Trial of Albrecht Muth may not start until next year; doctors want more observation

The murder trial of a District man charged in the 2011 beating death of his wife in their Georgetown home might not begin until December or even March — months after the original October scheduled trial date.

At a hearing Thursday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell F. Canan read a letter from doctors at District-run St. Elizabeths Hospital. Albrecht Gero Muth has been a patient at the mental hospital since February, when Canan ordered Muth there for evaluation after a hunger strike.

In a report filed this week, the doctors reiterated statements they have made for months: Muth has made progress, but they think he needs more treatment and observation before he is fit to stand trial.

Muth, 48, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Viola Drath, 91, his wife of 22 years. At the hearing, a shackled Muth spoke only to say “good morning” to Canan as U.S. marshals seated him next to his attorneys from the District’s Public Defender Service.

At recent hearings, Canan had pressed prosecutors and Muth’s attorneys to prepare for an Oct. 9 trial. But Canan acknowledged at Thursday’s hearing that if St. Elizabeths doctors needed more time, October might not be realistic.

Canan then set a tentative date of Dec. 3. But defense attorney Dana Page argued that her team might need more time to prepare its defense because Muth has been hospitalized for five months. A December trial, Page said, would result in “ineffective” assistance for Muth.

Canan said delaying the case into next year would mean an “extraordinarily long time” would have passed between Muth’s arrest and his trial. Still, he proposed a March 25 trial and said he hopes to set a date at a hearing scheduled for Sept. 6.

Frustrations with the process of and delays in getting the case to trial seemed to surface at Thursday’s hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner told Canan that the government recently hired its own doctors to evaluate Muth and said he believes they were prepared to rule that he was competent for trial.

Kirschner said the report should be filed in about two weeks. But such a report would contradict the evaluation of the St. Elizabeths doctors.

Muth, who continues to tell St. Elizabeths doctors he is a general in the Iraqi army, had told the judge in an earlier hearing that his wife’s death was a “hit” ordered by Iranian agents.

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 strangled and beaten.

At the hearing, Kirschner said prosecutors and doctors from St. Elizabeths planned to meet with members of Drath’s family in hopes of better understanding of Muth’s life and helping them evaluate his mental state.

Muth’s attorneys asked whether they could also meet with Drath’s family. Kirschner said he would talk to the family members to determine their willingness and availability. One of Drath’s daughters, who was seated in the back of the courtroom, shook her head as she heard the request.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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