WASHINGTON – A German-born man charged with killing his much-older socialite wife missed a scheduled court appearance Friday because he's been hospitalized for an undisclosed medical problem.
Albrecht Muth said in November that he was refusing to eat and then told the judge in a letter last month that he was entering a more demanding phase of his hunger strike and would not accept medical help under any circumstances. At a routine status conference Friday, public defenders and a prosecutor said they had no information on his condition or whether his hospitalization was a result of his refusal to eat.
The 47-year-old Muth has said he wants to act as his own attorney, but Judge Russell Canan said that request might need to be re-evaluated depending on Muth's mental and physical health.
"If someone's intent on terminating one's life, that's an issue that needs to be of concern," he said.
A spokeswoman for the D.C. jail said she could not discuss Muth's medical condition.
Muth is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal beating and strangulation of 91-year-old German socialite and journalist Viola Drath at their home in the city's fashionable Georgetown neighborhood. He has denied killing her, and suggested to detectives that perhaps an intruder was responsible.
Immediately after her death in August, he submitted an obituary to the media saying she had died from head trauma resulting from a fall, but an autopsy determined the cause of death to be strangulation and blunt force trauma.
Detectives who investigated the death as a homicide found no signs of forced entry and said no one else appeared to have had access to the home in the hours before Muth called police and reported finding his wife unconscious in the bathroom. They also said Muth had visible scratches on his forehead and presented her relatives with a forged document that said he was entitled to a portion of her estate.
The case has taken a series of bizarre turns since his arrest. Muth has claimed to be a brigadier general in the Iraqi army and demanded to wear his military uniform at trial. But prosecutors say he is fabricating his military experience and has admitted the uniform he frequently wore around the neighborhood was tailor-made for him in South Carolina. The Iraqi embassy also says Muth has no connection to the Iraqi military or government.
Muth has told a judge he believed Drath's death was a "hit" ordered by Iranian agents. He also sought to fire his public defenders in November, though they remain on the case as his legal advisers.
Prosecutor Glenn Kirschner said there didn't appear to be any doubts about Muth's mental health. He called him bright, calculating and manipulative.
"We don't know everything about him, we admit," he said.
Kirschner said a grand jury weighing the case is nearly done with its work and could return an indictment early next month.