The man charged in the fatal beating of his socialite wife in Georgetown fired his attorneys Friday and decided to represent himself in the murder trial.
At a hearing in D.C. Superior Court, Judge Russell F. Canan allowed Albrecht Gero Muth, 47, to serve as his own attorney.
In lengthy ramblings, Muth, who is charged with second-degree murder, also told the judge that he believed the August death of his wife of 22 years, Viola Drath, 91, was a “hit” ordered by Iranian agents.
Drath’s body was found in the second-floor bathroom of the home they 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.
On Friday, as investigators continued their probe, prosecutors indicated that they might seek a first-degree murder charge against Muth. Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner said he hoped that a grand jury would issue an indictment on the more-serious charge by the end of the year. Kirschner said authorities were testing for DNA, including from under Drath’s right thumbnail, which Kirschner described as “being ripped back and almost removed.”
Muth faces 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted. Canan set trial for Oct. 1.
In determining whether Muth is competent to serve as his own attorney, Canan asked him a series of questions. Muth responded with respect, although he repeatedly interrupted Canan. He said he was born in Germany and was not a U.S. citizen; that he attended college and majored in international relations and pre-law; that he had never been treated for a mental illness.
Muth — just as he has done since before his arrest — maintained Friday that he was a general in the Iraqi army. Muth declined to tell the judge how long he was in the army, explaining that “it had political implications,” but did say he was a general in the army for “longer than a year.”
Prosecutors have repeatedly said Muth was fabricating his military experience and there was no information to authenticate his claims. “The government doesn’t credit any of this,” Kirschner said. (Iraqi officials have told The Washington Post that they have no record of Muth’s service).
Muth argued that Kirschner was “misleading the court.”
Muth said he wanted to represent himself because he was frustrated that his two attorneys from the District’s Public Defender Service did not put him in contact with other attorneys, as he asked, and did not relay a letter he wrote to the White House and the Department of Defense.
Canan said the two public defenders would work as “advisers” on Muth’s case. Muth also requested to have two legal advisers from the U.S. Army and Iraq appointed to his case.
Canan told Muth that it was “not a wise idea” for him to represent himself because the case could be highly technical. The judge also noted that he would have difficulty tracking down and interviewing witnesses while locked in the D.C. jail.
As he did at a previous hearing, Muth spent about 15 minutes complaining about the conditions at the jail, including little to no heat, stagnant water in his cell, fleas and few opportunities to bathe. Muth also requested that he be allowed to wear his Iraqi uniform during the trial.
“We’ll discuss later what is appropriate attire for court,” Canan said.
Muth is in protective custody at the jail because he has received death threats, the suspect says.
Muth also said he planned to begin a fast Sunday and that if he died in jail, his remains should be sent to a U.S. Army “liaison.”