Accused murderer Albrecht Muth today is back in the DC Jail after ten months of treatment and evaluation at St. Elizabeths Hospital, where experts say he staged “illusions” to try to convince Superior Court judge Russell F. Canan he was not mentally fit to stand trial. It didn’t work. For those who have watched the case closely as it unfolded and gone loop-de-loop a few times, it will come as no surprise that Canan on Thursday ruled Muth mentally competent to stand trial and said he would like that trial to begin in March.
It also won’t come as a surprise that Muth, charged with the beating death of his wife, Viola Drath, wants to represent himself and subpoena former CIA director, General David H. Petraeus, among other notables, as his character witness. While that plan may seem counter to mental competency it’s also consistent with an analysis of Muth by court-appointed forensic mental health experts, who in a report to Canan wrote: “Mr. Muth knowingly traffics in illusions, not delusions; since incarceration . . . he has been steadily trying to con everyone by creating the illusion of delusion.” From the time of his initial arrest Muth has maintained that he is an Iraqi general, operating at the highest levels of the Washington intelligence world, and that Drath was killed by a hit squad who were after him.
Canan, who appears to be on to Muth, quoted the phrase “illusion of delusion” in the hearing Thursday at which he made his competency ruling, ordered Muth returned to the DC Department of Corrections and set a February 21 date for the next court hearing before trial. A spokesperson at Saint Elizabeths today said Muth did not return to the hospital after the Thursday hearing, and the DC Department of Corrections said he is back in their custody.
Drath was found bludgeoned to death in August 2011 in an upstairs bathroom of the Georgetown house she shared with her husband of almost 22 years. At the time they married she was 70 years old and he was 26. Police arrested and charged him within a few days of the murder. A few months later, locked up at the DC Jail, he went on a hunger strike that he said was ordered by the archangel Gabriel, who he claimed “spoke” to him. He also told the court he wanted to fire his public defenders and act as his own lawyer. Suffering from dehydration due to the hunger strike, he was transferred to the United Medical Center, where doctors said they thought he suffered from psychosis, which prompted Canan to transfer him to St. Elizabeths for more thorough evaluation.
In late summer of this year, Canan received reports from forensic psychologist Mitchell H. Hugonnet and forensic psychiatrist Robert T. M. Phillips. Both were appointed by the government and spent hours with Muth, putting him through a range of tests. The analysis also included interviews with Viola Drath’s family. Phillips, addressing his fasting and erratic behavior, wrote, “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.” The report also quoted a social worker who said Muth was confident he would be spared a trial and instead be a “civilly committed outpatient.”
Doctors at Saint Elizabeths, who have fluctuated in their analyses of Muth’s condition, ultimately came down on the side of competency. A clinical psychologist working for the defense earlier testified that Muth was incompetent and suffered from “delusional disorder.”
At the hearing Thursday, where he was represented by public defender Dana Page, Muth told Canan he still planned to fire her and be his own lawyer. Thus it will be interesting to see who shows up in Canan’s courtroom on February 21.