Elderly, fashionable Washington D.C. socialite Viola Drath was found dead inside her upscale Georgetown row house. Her husband — an eccentric German-born man, forty years younger than she — has been accused of her murder. The case has only grown more bizarre as Albrecht Muth, the husband, has fired his lawyers, suggested the killing was an Iranian hit, and demanded the right to wear a military uniform in court.
Muth is charged with homicide in the first degree (what we like to call murder one) of his wife, Viola Drath. That’s a purposeful, pre-meditated killing. In Washington, D.C., murder one has a maximum sentence of life in prison.
When the first responders found the 91-year-old woman unconscious in her bathroom in August of 2011, they naturally assumed she had died of natural causes. After an autopsy, however, the cause of death was ruled a homicide from blunt force trauma and strangulation. The only suspect was the woman’s second husband, a strangely grandiose man four decades her junior.
Viola Drath was a member of Washington, D.C.’s intellectual elite. Her regal townhouse in Georgetown was known for entertaining dignitaries and hosting extraordinary dinner parties. Mrs. Drath was a journalist, a writer, and a political advisor whose opinions carried great weight.
Her husband was another story. Albrecht Muth was more than 40 years younger than his wife, and he was as falsely theatrical as his wife was innately grand. He would preside over dinner parties from the head of the table, telling guests that he was an advisor to the Iraqi military or that he lost an eye while serving as the ambassador to Paraguay. He spent his days posting on Internet message boards, presenting himself as a military expert when he had never served a day in any army, and living off the allowance his wife provided.
Investigators uncovered a troubling history of domestic abuse between the two. Mrs. Drath had called the police with domestic violence allegations a number of times, but the only time a case went to court, Mrs. Drath asked that the charges be dropped. A man who Muth acknowledged as his gay lover also reported violence in their relationship.
The criminal proceedings against Muth are nothing short of a circus. Muth has fired and rehired his lawyers, insisted that he be permitted to wear an Iraqi military uniform in court, and gone on hunger strikes in protestation of the proceedings. He has likened himself to Moses and Jesus, and reported seeing visions of the archangel Gabriel. After requesting that he be permitted to represent himself, a judge declared him unfit for self representation and ordered he retain counsel. In his defense he has proposed a bizarre theory — that Drath was the victim of an Iranian hit.
Trial has been delayed for months to determine whether Muth is competent to stand trial. However, in early September, 2012, doctors at St. Elizabeths Hospital reversed course and found Muth mentally fit for trial, calling him “more deceitful than delusional.”
On January 16, 2014, a D.C. jury took only half a day to convict Muth of first-degree murder in the death of his elderly wife. Muth watched the entirety of his trial from a hospital bed via a live video feed after a self-imposed hunger strike left him too weak to be transported to the courtroom.
The jury also found that the murder was especially heinous and cruel. Muth faces a maximum punishment of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced on March 19.
Albrecht Garo Muth, Aka Muth Pasha, aka Shaikh Ali al-Muthaba: A self-described secret agent, diplomat and militia leader who in reality never held down any job for a notable length of time and instead lived off his wife’s fortune. At age 47, he stands accused of killing his 91-year-old wife.
Viola Herms Drath: The German expatriate who married a United States Army colonel and returned to Washington, D.C., where she pursued a career in journalism and used her fluency in foreign affairs to cultivate a reputation as a respected political advisor. She was known for her interest in fashion and art and for writing plays, books and columns on foreign relations. For a woman of her status and accomplishments, her second marriage to Albrecht Muth was seen as a strange twist in an otherwise exemplary life.
Is this fake soldier a real killer?
Jeffrey Toobin Explains Albrecht Muth’s Legal Options
Introduction: Of all the colorful characters we cover, Albrecht and Viola are certainly among the most dazzling! Muth, in particular, is the kind of defendant who won’t stop making news until the matter is resolved. His courtroom antics are reminiscent of the Saddam Hussein trial — always a new strategy to distract from the task at hand.
At this point it’s far too early to predict defense strategies, although Muth’s legal team will almost certainly continue to have Muth evaluated for competency to stand trial. Given that Muth appears to understand the legal proceedings and is by all accounts intelligent, it will be difficult to show that he is unfit to stand trial. More likely is that the defense will try to argue Muth could have been insane at the time of the crime, a determination that is far harder to prove but might be consistent with his grandiose delusional pattern.
June 31, 2012: One step closer, two steps back seems to be the current state of events in this increasingly bizarre case. As the case inches toward trial, Muth’s lawyers have indicated that the defendant is nowhere near ready to assist in his own defense. If a defendant cannot help his legal team fight his case, that means he is incompetent to stand trial.
Muth is currently residing at a mental hospital, and the goal of his treatment is getting him stable enough that he is able to speak coherently to his lawyers, understand the legal proceedings facing him, and assist with strategy and defenses. Generally speaking, defendants are restored to sanity and do go on to trial, but there have been cases where defendants are held at mental hospitals indefinitely, putting their trials in a very long holding pattern.
December 12, 2012: As Muth’s competency hearing drags on, let’s talk about what his lawyers need to prove to convince the court that Muth is, in fact, incompetent to stand trial. As strange as Muth’s behavior thus far has been — assuming different identities, hunger strikes, wearing Iraqi military dress in court — none of those wacky antics mean that Muth is so mentally ill that he cannot stand trial.
The key to competency to stand trial is the defendant’s ability to understand the legal process and his ability to help his lawyer with his defense. Don’t confuse a competency issue with a “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense; they are not the same. Not guilty by reason of insanity defendants are those who were, at the time of the crime, not mentally well enough to appreciate that they were committing a crime.
An incompetent defendant is someone who cannot understand a criminal trial, who does not understand his role in the legal proceedings, and who cannot help his attorney prepare a defense.
Muth’s lawyers are trying to prove incompetency. To that end, they have introduced psychiatric experts who have interviewed Muth and found that his understanding of the criminal case is clouded by an elaborate delusion and conspiracy theory. This delusion is keeping him from understanding the case and prohibiting him from helping his lawyer with his defense.
The testimony so far has been compelling, but most judges are reluctant to find defendants incompetent to stand trial because it is so judicially inefficient. Basically, if a judge says that a defendant can’t participate in his trial, then that defendant gets put in an indefinite holding pattern. He becomes a ward of the state and will remain in custody indefinitely or until he becomes psychiatrically healthy enough to go back to court.
Finding a defendant incompetent is a bad situation for everyone. The defendant’s due process rights are put on hold, the family and friends of the victims wait longer for justice, and the case ages and the investigation grows stale, making it harder to take to trial down the line.
For that reason, judges find defendants incompetent as an absolute last resort, and Muth may not be quite incompetent enough for this particular case.