Georgetown socialite murder trial could go forward without Muth in courtroom

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Local,DC,Crime,Naomi Jagoda

The trial for Albrecht Muth, the man accused of killing his much-older socialite wife in their Georgetown home, could proceed even if he is too weak to physically appear in the courtroom.

Although a doctor said that Muth's health would be at risk if he was transported from the hospital, Judge Russell Canan said that he believes Muth's upcoming trial could still go forward.

Muth, 48, is charged with first-degree murder in the August 2011 beating and strangulation death of 91-year-old Viola Drath. His trial is scheduled to begin March 25.

Since his arrest, Muth has gone on hunger strikes. He has previously said that he has fasted as a result of orders from the Archangel Gabriel.

The latest hunger strike began after he was declared competent to stand trial in December. Dr. Russom Ghebrai, Muth's attending physician, said in court Thursday that Muth has been eating on and off -- he ate over the weekend but did not eat Wednesday and did not plan to eat on Thursday as well.

Ghebrai said that even the acts of sitting and standing could lead to Muth's death. If he does anything but lay down, "it would be so critical," the doctor said.

After Ghebrai's testimony, Judge Russell Canan ruled that Muth was incapable of physically appearing in court in his condition, because transporting him from the hospital would pose a "substantial risk" to his health.

Prosecutor Glenn Kirschner then asked for Muth's March 25 trial date to be vacated. But Canan said that he believes that "there is authority to proceed" even if Muth is not physically present in the courtroom.

Canan told Muth, who participated in Thursday's hearing over the phone, that if he did not resume eating regularly and improve his health, the court could consider if Muth "knowingly and voluntarily and intelligently" waived his right to be present at trial.

In response, Muth challenged the idea that he should be taking chances "with a bunch of secularites." Muth responded to another of Canan's remarks by saying "it's really like talking to a deaf mute," explaining that Canan fails to understand his faith.

Canan said that Muth may be able to appear at his trial through the use of technology. He asked the prosecutors and defense lawyers to research the issue of a trial without Muth's physical presence and scheduled another hearing for Tuesday morning.

"I realize we are in uncharted territory," Canan said.

njagoda@washingtonexaminer.com

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