Albrecht Muth, the self-styled brigadier general of the Iraqi Army who is accused of strangling and bludgeoning to death his 91-year-old wife, Viola Drath, in their Georgetown home last August, stood ramrod straight before the judge in a status hearing in District of Columbia Superior Court Friday.
Slim, manacled and sporting a bright orange prison jump suit instead of his usual immaculately pressed military uniform, the 47-year-old German citizen rocked back and forth, nervously fiddling with a pen as he answered the judge’s questions in a bid to represent himself in his upcoming trial.
Before the judge agreed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner warned the defendant of the perils of self representation and told him that his case was still before a grand jury and that the charge of second-degree murder might well be changed to murder one, which carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
Kirschner also disclosed that his office was conducting DNA testing on some of Drath’s fingernail clippings, including a thumbnail, which appeared to have been ripped off.
“I am fully aware,” Muth said in his accented English as he launched into series of complaints about the conditions of the D.C. jail, his lack of access to the press, and the failure of his two court appointed attorneys to contact the White House and the Defense Department in an effort to determine his innocence. Because of what he called the “sensitive nature” of his case, he repeatedly requested an Army major and an Iraqi official to help with research and augment his defense team. “When that happens, the rest will fall into place,” he said calmly.
Rambling on, he insisted that his work was covert and legitimate, as he showed the court a series of photos of himself with well-placed Iraqis at Arlington, named well-known journalists Jim Hoagland and Jackson Diehl as character witnesses, and asked that future court hearings be closed to shield his clandestine operations. The judge declined his request.
For years, Much had marched around the red brick sidewalks of Georgetown, festooned in full Iraqi regalia, claiming to be an insider dealing with various intelligence agencies, throwing protocol-perfect dinner parties, which included Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and other Washington heavyweights, in the home he shared with his journalist wife, Viola Drath.
Their marriage, which he called “one of convenience,” was turbulent. Her friends and family loathed him, and she had filed several protective orders against Muth. When she was 86 and Muth was 42, she told police he assaulted her with a chair, banged her head on the floor, sat on her chest, and refused to let her leave the house. But convinced she could handle her situation, she declined to press changes.
By early last summer, she told a close friend, Viola Wentzel, that she was really scared; and she sought advice from several German lawyers. Then, on Aug. 12, she was found beaten to death in a second-story bathroom of her home. Muth called police to say she died from a fall, and told her family he was owed a bequest of $250,000.
On Friday, he told the court she was the unintended victim of an “Iranian hit man,” part of the group that had plotted an assassination attempt against the Saudi Arabian ambassador last month. He went on to say that he was the intended target because of all his cloak-and-dagger work inside Iran.
The prosecutor labeled Muth’s story a fabrication, telling the court they had checked his background and discovered, among other things, that he had been a desk clerk in a Miami hotel from 2006 to 2008. (The Iraq Embassy has also denied all his stories.)
As the judge set a future hearing for February 2012 and a trial date of October 1, 2012, Muth interrupted and said that if he died in prison, his remains were to be sent to a “U.S. Army liaison,” and as of Sunday evening he “planned an unlimited fast.”