Two Court-Appointed Experts Say Albrecht Muth Is Competent to Stand Trial for Murder

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Superior Court in the death of Viola Drath.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

According to a forensic psychologist who spent hours with him and put him through a battery of tests, accused murderer Albrecht Gero Muth is a psychopath, a practiced liar, and an accomplished con artist, but is not delusional and is therefore competent to stand trial for the August 2011 murder of his wife, Viola Drath, at their Georgetown townhouse. Muth’s alibi is that he was out of the house and returned to find Drath’s body in an upstairs bathroom. The coroner found strangle marks and bruises. Muth was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Muth “built his entire life by constructing multiple and often simultaneous false narratives, tales within tales, like Russian nesting dolls, in order to advance his strategic objectives,” Mitchell H. Hugonnet writes in a 27-page report that was sent to the court, prosecutors, and Muth’s lawyers, and made public. He does not find Muth “mentally ill or cognitively compromised in any way.” He notes that Muth has, in various ways, tried to manipulate doctors at St. Elizabeths Hospital, where he is incarcerated, into declaring him incompetent by virtue of being delusional. “Mr. Muth knowingly traffics in illusions, not delusions; since incarceration at the DC Jail, he has been steadily trying to con everyone by creating the illusion of a delusion,” the report reads.

Hugonnet’s report and another 24-page assessment from forensic psychiatrist Robert T.M. Phillips are expected to be the focus in DC Superior Court on Thursday, when Judge Russell Canan holds the latest in a series of hearings that pertain to Muth’s competency. The reports are based on visits with Muth at St. Elizabeths on various dates in June, July, and August, as well as conversations with hospital medical staff, members of the Drath family, and a variety of printed materials, including police and court documents, letters, e-mails, and, bizarrely, a 250-page draft of a memoir Muth has been writing since his arrest titled Judgment at Washington—Triumph of Illusion by Staff Brigadier General Albrecht Gero Muth, Iraqi Army, Based on a True Story. There is no evidence, as yet, that Muth was ever in the Iraqi Army. There is no evidence, either, that he is “Count Albi,” another identity he claimed. The principal thread of the memoir, based on excerpts quoted in the medical report, is that an Iranian intelligence hit squad was after Muth for unspecified reasons, and killed Drath instead by mistake. This is an opinion Muth has expressed in court, to his lawyers, and to other medical analysts.

Muth’s lawyers, Dana Paige and Craig Hickein, appointed by the DC Public Defender Service, in an August 24 letter to the Office of the US Attorney asked for “any and all information” upon which Hugonnet and Phillips relied in their examination and analysis of Muth, which was requested by the prosecution after the initial declaration of incompetency was made by Judge Canan in February. Canan based his decision on information from the DC Department of Corrections. Before the most recent request for materials, the defense sent a so-called Rosser letter to the prosecutors, asking for other items. A number of documents have been received, but Paige and Hickein claim not to have received everything that they consider discoverable.

The legal back-and-forth is interesting, because from the beginning, Muth has claimed he wanted to serve as his own lawyer. He eventually relented to the appointment of Paige and Hickein, but in his report, Phillips makes clear that Muth has a specific view of the relationship and considers himself smarter and more able than his lawyers. Hugonnet heard much the same. Muth told Hugonnet, “‘I like them, and there is no bad chemistry,’” but Muth considers his lawyers—portrayed as professional and well-meaning but challenged by their client—to be merely advisers: “He stated that he would leave the direct examinations to his attorneys but that he would take the lead conducting cross-examination.” Muth assured Hugonnet that this would be a “workable relationship.” There is no comment on this strategy from Paige or Hickein.

Part of the apparent dispute with his legal team, Muth told Hugonnet, is that they have not been willing to help him procure certain witnesses he feels will verify he is an Iraqi general. Hugonnet writes, “Implicit in Mr. Muth’s legal strategy is the threat of a deliberately created spectacle in the courtroom by issuing subpoenas to national and international government officials”—including General David Petraeus, the head of the CIA, whom Muth met while working on a charitable project, and possibly even former Vice President Dick Cheney, whom the Muths entertained in 2006, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who came to the Muths’ Georgetown house for “multiple dinners,” according to Drath’s family. Hugonnet says this proposed strategy is not a sign of incompetence. Muth “may choose not to cooperate with his legal advisors, or he may decide to behave in a way that compromises the dignity of the Courtroom; if so, these actions would be completely voluntary and not the result of any mental illness.”

Since he has been at St. Elizabeths, according to the reports, Muth has been on a variety of medications, including the antipsychotic Zyprexa, which was switched to Seroquel, and low doses of anti-anxiety drugs such as Lorazepam and Klonopin. 

The reports contain several references to Muth claiming to have visions of the Archangel Gabriel, who he says has ordered him to go on periodic fasts. It was the first fast, which caused dehydration, that got him transferred from the DC Jail to the hospital. It was during this period that he was diagnosed as delusional and declared incompetent to stand trial. There is an indication that Muth stops and starts fasts according to the vagaries of his case. The doctors say the medications he takes have caused “no articulated change” in his claims or fasts. Phillips quotes one of the St. Elizabeths doctors as observing: “Mr. Muth’s recent announcement to begin fasting happened to occur just after he was informed the [St. Elizabeth’s] Treatment Team was reconsidering his [delusional] diagnosis and competency status.” Phillips writes, “These episodes of fasting seem manipulative and are not likely the result of psychotic process. . . . [His] retreat to fasting causes dehydration and hospitalization resulting in both attention via the sick role and potential delay in adjudication.”

Hugonnet and Phillips use a lot of the same clinical words and phrases in describing Muth, including “immature,” “impulsive,” “grandiose,” “risk-taking,” “a strong need for interpersonal control and dominance coupled with cold detachment,” and a belief in his “own superiority.” The doctors describe Muth as being cooperative and calm in his meetings with them, though both noted periods at the start where he conversed with his eyes closed. “When questioned about this, he stated he does so in order to concentrate and that it was an Arab cultural practice he learned as an Iraqi general,” writes Phillips. Later, he stopped the eye-closing and maintained “fair to good” eye contact. 

Dr. Hugonnet says in his report that Viola Drath’s daughters and grandson—Judge Constance Drath Dwyer, Francesca Drath, and Ethan Drath—were interviewed at length. (Muth’s parents reportedly are dead, and he is estranged from two brothers.) Their observations are revealing and disturbing, though no particular comment is attributed by name. Collectively, they said that “over the years, there were a zillion stories and many personas. He adopts a persona and sticks with it for a couple of years, and then he gets tired of it and abandons it.” When Muth and Viola Drath met, he was an intern in the office of Virginia senator Chuck Robb, and she was a journalist and married. They shared an affection for their native land, Germany, German politics, and international affairs. A few years after Drath’s husband died, she married Muth, upsetting her family. At the time she was 70 years old and he was 26. At the time of her death they had been married for almost 22 years, a marriage Muth described as being “of convenience” and which he likened to the relationship arrangement in the film Sunset Boulevard. Twice police were called to the house when Drath said he had assaulted her, but she did not press charges.

In both reports there’s a revisit of the much-reported “social” life of Muth and Drath, and it underscores a desperate strategy to be included, albeit on the fringe, of the influential life in Washington. What the latest report makes clear is that the couple kept a guest book, that Muth understood the importance of a trail of backup, and how he used one set of important dinner guests to woo another. He organized ever more ambitious social functions, pushing Drath to the fore, even writing scripted words for her to speak to the guests. Her family, the report says, felt they saw through this manipulation but also felt helpless to do anything about it. 

“Mr. Muth has a proven track record conning very savvy people to buy into his persona, methods and schemes over the course of two decades,” writes Hugonnet. “If past is prologue, Mr. Muth has more than ample reason to have significant faith in his methods and ability to influence both the hospital and the legal system.” The doctor says his ego knows no bounds. When he showed Muth a New York Times profile with the catchy title “The Talented Mr. Muth,” the defendant called it “amusing” and a “nice puff piece,” and suggested Leonard DiCaprio play him in the film. 

Even though Muth’s wife gave him a monthly stipend of under $2,000, Dr. Phillips says profit was not his motive. For Muth, “it is acclaim, esteem and deemed importance that are his prize, not financial gain. Like the character in the movie The Great Impostor, Mr. Muth’s lies serve to set the stage for the life drama he has written in which he stars, directs and casts others.”

An interesting glimpse into Muth’s view of his possible future comes from social worker Christine Litwa. “Mr. Muth would talk to me and asserted, ‘I will be a civilly committed outpatient,’” she is quoted as saying in the report. “We sat him down to make sure that he understood that he could be on the pretrial unit for some time if he was not competent. Nevertheless, he persisted and approached me about getting Social Security Income (SSI) after civil commitment.” Hugonnet writes, “Ms. Litwa believed that Mr. Muth was comforted by the idea that civil commitment was inevitable.” She said on several occasions he approached her, asking for a case manager, because he expected to be released from the hospital “soon.”

In the last pages of the report, the doctors emphasize their opinion that Muth has “never been mentally ill,” but point to his primary diagnosis as severe and chronic narcissistic personality disorder. “Mr. Muth’s elevated score of 29.5 places him in the high ranking of psychopathy.” 

At the end, Hugonnet portrays Muth as the “expert chess master able to play several chess matches all at once and still win.” He says his skills have been developed over three decades and continue to define his life. “Mr. Muth appears to have been running the con and scam of his life in the wake of being charged with the alleged First Degree Murder of his wife of two decades, Mrs. Viola Herms Drath Muth.”

The next move is Judge Canan’s.