Albrecht Muth‘s ongoing hunger strike imperils his ability to act as his own attorney, Judge Russell Canan said Thursday.
A mental health review found Muth competent to stand trial in December in connection with the death of his wife, Viola Drath. His declining health, though, jeopardizes his ability to represent himself, Canan said.
Muth appeared by telephone from United Medical Center, where he is being monitored by doctors.
Muth’s physician, Dr. Russom Ghebrali, testified that Muth has not eaten since December, although he drank ice cream and pudding Wednesday.
Muth cannot sit or stand and would need to be transported to court in a hospital bed if he were to stand trial, Ghebrali said.
Canan suggested that it may also be possible for Muth to appear by video monitor from the hospital. But Canan said he would have to take a closer look at whether that would violate Muth’s constitutional right to be present at his trial.
Ghebrali said Muth has told him the angel Gabriel has appeared to him and instructed him not to eat.
“You can’t tell me what I hear,” the doctor said Muth tells him.
Muth weighs about 120 pounds and is at an “imminent risk of sudden death,” Ghebrali said. Muth has also signed a do-not-resuscitate order, which prohibits hospital or court medical staff from reviving him should he collapse in court.
Canan said he was worried Muth’s health could deteriorate further, or that he could even die in the courtroom, should he not be able to withstand the demands of a trial lasting eight hours each day.
Muth’s attorney, Dana Page, argued that defendants with medical conditions like diabetes and heart conditions appear in court each day even though they face health risks.
If all sides can’t agree on a procedure for using a video link, more hearings would be required to establish that a video system was the only way to allow the case to reach trial, Canan said.
Muth is scheduled to appear before Judge Canan March 7 at 10 a.m. for a trial readiness hearing. His trial remains scheduled for March 25.