Weakened by a months-long fast and in critical condition at United Medical Center, Albrecht Muth on Thursday attempted to win back his right to represent himself at his upcoming murder trial.
Muth spoke with the court by phone, saying that, in fasting, he intends to possibly die before Easter, will subpoena Gen. David Petraeus and other high-ranking government officials for evidence he was an Iraqi brigadier general and that his wife, 91-year-old Viola Drath, was killed by an Iranian agent.
“This marks the last time I will address myself in public,” Muth also told the court.
Muth’s claims, though, did little to sway Judge Russell Canan, who urged Muth to end a months-long hunger strike that has left attorneys at a loss on how to proceed with the trial scheduled to begin March 25.
“You say you’re innocent of these charges,” Canan said to Muth. “I would hope you would have enough faith in the criminal justice system that you’d be vindicated.”
Muth said his fast is motivated by religious reasons; the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him not to eat, he said. The fast “aims to bring me into one with Christ Jesus during this Lenten season,” Muth said.
Muth’s condition continues to deteriorate, and Muth has not eaten since December, although he drank pudding and ice cream last month. Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner said doctors at United Medical Center suspect he may be drinking water when no one is watching.
Canan revoked Muth’s right to represent himself Feb. 21, saying Muth’s physical condition would make it too difficult for him to act as his own attorney.
But with Muth’s trial date rapidly approaching, no plan is in place yet that would allow Muth to appear in court without jeopardizing his fragile health.
The District’s Department of Corrections, too, is deeply concerned about the prospect of transporting Muth, said Maria Amato, the agency’s general counsel.
Corrections officials lacked appropriate training to transport an inmate as medically fragile as Muth, Amato said. They also wouldn’t be able to transport Muth in a medical vehicle like an ambulance. Muth has signed a do-not-resuscitate order, preventing employees from reviving him should he collapse in transit.
Muth is too weak to sit or stand up, and his physician, Dr. Russom Ghebrali, testified last month that Muth may be able to appear in court if he could lie on a hospital stretcher during the proceedings.
Amato said she had spoken to a supervising doctor at United Medical Center, who told her “bringing him to court would be crazy. He could drop dead at any moment.”
The hospital now lists Muth in critical condition, Amato said.
Muth’s attorney, Dana Page, argued it was still possible to bring Muth to court, perhaps through a private ambulance company. But contracting with such a provider could cost tens of thousands of dollars, Amato said.
Canan indicated a preference for allowing Muth to appear by video conference from his hospital room. But, he acknowledged, case law had not established that a defendant’s presence by video link was sufficient to allow a trial to take place. Canan said this case may be different because Muth was choosing not to eat, rather than suffering from a medical condition like a recent stroke, that affected his ability to appear.
Muth’s attorney Craig Hickein argued that Muth has a right to continue his fast as a matter of religious freedom. To deny him his fast would deny him his First Amendment rights, Hickein said.
Despite the medical and related legal holdups, prosecutors have continued building their case against Muth and on Tuesday filed a motion outlining much of their case, including evidence they are seeking to introduce of Muth and Drath’s past instances of domestic violence.
Prosecutors believe Muth wanted Drath to increase his $2,000 monthly allowance, the documents state. Muth was drinking with a man he met from a Craigslist personal advertisement the night of Aug. 11, 2011 and became intoxicated, according to the filing.
“Multiple witnesses relate that the defendant often became loud and belligerent when he drank to excess, which was often,” the document states.
At 7:56 a.m. the next morning, Muth called police and reported he had found Drath dead on the bathroom floor. There were no signs anyone else had entered the home, and the couple were the only ones home that night.
Muth had encountered police in the past, and was convicted of assaulting Drath in 1992. Muth pled guilty to punching Drath in the face, throwing her to the ground and punching her in the ribs when she interrupted him as he was speaking on the phone.
Muth allegedly choked Drath and threatened to kill her on a trip to New York in 1992, and police heard Muth threatening her when they arrived. Muth allegedly told another man in 2004 he wanted to kill Drath and had thought about leaving her in the desert on a trip they took to Egypt or Jordan, “but there were too many people around and he was afraid he’d get caught.”
In 2006, prosecutors say, Muth assaulted Drath with a chair and pounded her head against the floor. Then he sat on her for five to 10 minutes, preventing her from contacting police.
In all three cases, Drath declined to press charges against Muth.
Muth also had attempted to hire a drug dealer to kill Drath and make it look like a botched robbery, prosecutors claim.
When State Department investigators spoke with Drath by phone in Sept. 2010 – investigating Muth’s habit of faxing them secret documents disclosed by Wikileaks “as if he had some inside information” – they were disturbed enough by what she told them that they “grabbed their guns” and drove to her home. But no one was there when they arrived, the document states.
The filing from prosecutors is below:
A filing from Muth’s attorneys is below: