There were no surprises today at the Superior Court hearing for Albrecht Muth, who has been indicted for first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Viola Drath. The prosecution and defense agreed with the recommendation of St. Elizabeths Hospital that Muth be returned to the DC mental health facility for another 30 days of treatment and evaluation. He just completed an initial 30 days in which doctors assessed him as “currently” incompetent to proceed with his case. One important issue they want to resolve is whether he is genuinely psychotic or feigning psychological problems. If he’s declared competent, tried, and found guilty he could serve life in federal prison.
What was interesting in Judge Russell Canan’s courtroom was Muth himself, shackled at the ankles and waist, dressed in navy blue and red sweats and slip-on sneakers, his hair short, his facial hair neatly groomed. At the last hearing, a month ago, he was not present because he was deemed to be in near-grave condition, hospitalized with dehydration after refusing food. At that time he told doctors his “fast” was ordered by the archangel Gabriel. Today he looked well enough for a man who has been incarcerated—in one way or another—since his August arrest. At the very least he was calm and did not look to be starving; he was no thinner than before he went to jail. He did not speak during the brief hearing.
When court was brought to order, Canan summarized the two-and-a-half-page competency evaluation compiled by a team of experts at St. Elizabeths. A patient has to meet a three-pronged set of measures to be found competent. On that basis, the medical team wrote: “At present, Mr. Muth appears to have a factual understanding of the court proceedings. At this time, of concern is his ability to rationally understand the proceedings against him, or consult with his attorneys to a reasonable degree of rational understanding. Thus, it is opined that Mr. Muth is currently incompetent to proceed with his case.” The report said Muth is “currently diagnosed with Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” and that he is receiving medication as part of his treatment. His doctors believe there is a “substantial probability” he will attain competence.
As for the matter of whether Muth is competent or faking it, the St. Elizabeths assessment stressed that to “further clarify the issue, psychological testing will be conducted to not only aid in diagnostic clarification, but also to explore the possibility of feigned psychological problems as part of his clinical presentation.” In an earlier interview with The Washingtonian, St. Elizabeths director of forensic services Dr. KyleeAnn Stevens said it is possible for a patient to fool doctors. “Certainly that can happen,” she said. “What we have is the capability to provide 24-hour observation and monitoring, and we have a number of trained professionals working with the individual.” She was not speaking about Muth specifically but individuals under evaluation in general. Another expert, however, said, “It’s hard to pretend for 30 days on a 24-hour basis.”
Judge Canan remanded Muth to St. Elizabeths for another 30 days with the admonition, “I encourage you to work with St. Elizabeths because you want to get this back on track, because I know you want to represent yourself.” He set the next hearing in the case for Wednesday, April 25.