When he married in 1991, Albrecht Gero Muth, then 26, was an ambitious former congressional intern. His bride, Viola Herms Drath, was a spry 71-year-old journalist, playwright, socialite and activist on behalf of military mothers.
Although it seemed an odd match, friends and family members said Drath found the relationship exciting. But a year after their nuptials, Muth pleaded guilty to assault after punching his wife in the face because she had interrupted him while he was on the phone. Two more assaults soon followed, but Drath declined to press further charges against her husband.
In the summer of 2011, in what prosecutors called a drunken rage, Muth fatally beat and strangled Drath, 91, in their Georgetown rowhouse. A jury convicted Muth of first-degree murder, and on Wednesday, a D.C. Superior Court judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison, stopping short of prosecutors’ request for life without parole.
In his remarks before sentencing, Judge Russell F. Canan described Muth, 49, as “a common serial domestic violence abuser, made worse when he drinks, who subjected Ms. Drath to many years of abuse.”
Muth’s sentencing brings to a close what federal prosecutors and legal observers have called one of the District’s most unusual homicide cases. Unusual, said Assistant U.S. Attorneys Glenn Kirschner and Laura Bach, largely because of Muth’s web of “lies, fabrications, fraud and deception.”
Muth has maintained that he did not kill Drath, and on Wednesday, his attorney read a letter in which Muth said he had been unjustly convicted. After Drath’s body was found in her bathroom in August 2011 with her legs outstretched and gashes on her neck, Muth told authorities that she had fallen. She had 10 fractured ribs, bruises to her spine and scratches around her neck, prosecutors said. The scratches, they said, occurred when Drath tried to fight off Muth as he strangled her. She fought so hard, they said, that one of her thumbnails broke off.
After a medical examiner ruled Drath’s death a homicide, Muth said she was killed as a result of a failed Iranian assassination attempt on him.
During their marriage, the East German-born Muth created myriad personas for himself to the amusement of Drath, but also to the frustration and concern of her family and friends. At different times, prosecutors said, Muth assumed the persona of a U.S. Army officer, a count, a foreign spy and, most recently, an Iraqi general, donning a military uniform as he walked the streets of Georgetown. Prosecutors said Muth purchased the uniform off the Internet.
In a court filing, Kirschner said Muth was a “career con man, perpetual fraud and serial wife-abuser.”
Muth had described his relationship with Drath to police as “a marriage of convenience.” The two slept in the same bedroom but in separate beds.
Muth never held a job during their marriage and lived off a $2,000-a-month allowance from Draft, prosecutors said. In the weeks before her death, Drath had reduced the payments to $1,800 a month.
On the morning before his wife’s death, Muth returned to their home from an evening of drinking with a male friend. The two had met via a personal ad that the man posted on Craigslist.
On Wednesday, Drath’s youngest daughter, Fran Drath, sat in the courtroom with friends, as she had during Muth’s trial in January. She declined to comment on the punishment, but in a statement filed with the court, she said her mother’s death left her “trying to navigate a world that is unrecognizable.”
Muth was not present at Wednesday’s hearing. As he had during his trial, he participated via video conference from a hospital bed about 10 miles away under prison guard. Months before his trial, Muth began what he described as a “religious fast.” His weight plummeted, and he was moved from jail to the hospital when he grew too weak.
With a white blanket pulled up to his neck, Muth appeared coherent and even summoned a nurse to bring him a drink.
Muth had previously sought to have himself committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital, the District's psychiatric facility. But doctors at the hospital, as well as doctors hired by prosecutors, declared Muth sane.
Muth declined to speak at his sentencing. But in the letter read by one of his attorneys, Dana Page, he said: “I affirm my innocence. My conviction is a miscarriage of justice.”
In what left many in the courtroom confused, given Muth’s purported allegiance to Iraq and his allegations that his wife’s death was the result of an Iranian hit, Muth also wrote that he called “on my Iranian brothers to advise the U.S. government of my innocence.”
Muth will eventually be transferred to a federal prison hospital outside the District.