A D.C. Superior Court judge expressed skepticism Wednesday over whether Albrecht Gero Muth, who has been hospitalized as a result of a hunger strike, is capable of representing himself in his upcoming murder trial.
Muth was charged in the beating death of his elderly Georgetown wife, Viola Hermes Drath. Judge Russell F. Canan called the hearing after reading a report in The Washington Post Friday that Muth, while an inmate in the D.C. jail, had not eaten since Dec. 20 and was admitted to the hospital Jan. 21.
Muth, 48, is charged with first-degree murder in the August 2011 death of Drath, 91, his wife of 22 years, in their Georgetown home. Authorities said Drath was beaten and strangled. Muth, a German native who has maintained that he is an Iraqi general, has repeatedly told officials that he did not kill his wife and that Drath’s death was the result of an Iranian hit that was intended for him. Muth, whose trial is scheduled to begin March 25, is facing life in prison.
Canan called Wednesday's hearing to determine whether Muth is capable of representing himself. The judge will make a ruling later this month.
Wednesday’s hearing was unusual; Muth was not present, but he was patched into the proceedings by telephone from his hospital bed at United Medical Center.
Canan leaned over the bench when he spoke to be sure Muth could hear him. And a courtroom employee held the speaker phone up to the microphone so participants in the courtroom could hear Muth. When attorneys and prosecutors spoke, they walked up to the bench and nearly shouted into the phone each time they made an argument.
Diana Lapp, head physician at D.C. jail, said Muth, as a result of the fast, was in “very, very poor health” and was unable to get out of his bed even to be weighed. Lapp said the hospital had tried Jan. 3o to give Muth fluids, but he remained ill.
Canan said Muth has signed a do-not-resuscitate order, and hospital officials were “trying to make him as comfortable as possible.”
In December, Canan had ruled Muth competent to stand trial. At that hearing, Muth fired his public defenders, and Canan ordered them to serve as advisers.
Muth insisted Wednesday that he is still competent to represent himself. “I don’t see how my fast should interfere with my ability to represent myself,” he said. “It is my constitutional right to represent myself.”
Canan initially said he would reappoint Muth’s attorneys. “Do as you please,” Muth said.
But then Craig Hickein, one of Muth’s advisory attorneys, argued that he and his colleagues have not been active with Muth’s case since Muth removed them. Hickein argued that Muth had a right to argue in a hearing as to whether he was physically able to represent himself, despite the fast.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner disagreed and argued that Canan should appoint the attorneys so the trial and proceedings can continue. “This fast is just another orchestration to delay these proceedings.”
Kirschner also said he was concerned that Muth’s latest health challenges could send a message to other defendants awaiting trial on how they too can delay their pending cases.
Muth’s original trial date was set for last October. But two previous fasts forced delays. Last February, he was removed from D.C. jail and admitted to St. Elizabeths for observation. In August, was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Canan kept the March 25 trial date in place — for now.