On Thursday, Judge Russell Canan offered the clearest signs yet he intends to require enfeebled murder defendant Albrecht Muth to appear for trial by video link if his condition has not improved.
Muth appeared by telephone Thursday morning for the hearing. His trial was postponed after a series of hearings over his health more than a month ago.
Since then, little has changed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner said.
Muth, accused of killing his wife, Viola Drath, remains too weak to be transported to the courthouse. However, he continues to eat enough that he remains alive. Muth effectively is in a state of “chronic starvation,” Kirschner said.
Muth had been scheduled to go to trial March 25, but Judge Russell Canan postponed the trial to December to allow for more time to decide on a way around Muth’s medical issues.
Muth has been on a periodic hunger fast he says is religiously motivated.
Muth’s unique circumstance are not addressed by legal precedent, but similar cases have allowed judges to continue a trial if a defendant is deemed “disorderly.” In one case, a defendant attempted suicide while a jury was deliberating, and was unable to attend the court hearing when the verdict was read. The judge’s actions were upheld by higher courts, Canan said.
Canan said there were issues to work out, though, over whether a video link showing Muth in a hospital bed would prejudice a jury. Canan disclosed he had watched a recent ABC News interview filmed with Muth and thought seeing him so enfeebled could cause the jury undue bias towards him.
Canan said he intentionally has not read a lengthy 2012 New York Times Magazine piece on the case.
“I didn’t feel it was appropriate to read it,” he said.
Prosecutors have indicated in court that they were not comfortable with the video link because of a perceived high risk that any verdict reached could be overturned by an appeals court. Kirschner said Thursday, though, that he would prepare for trial should Canan insist on it.
Through all of this Thursday, Muth listened.
“I hear what you are saying,” his voice acknowledged over the speaker system.