WASHINGTON (AP) — Jurors in the trial of a German man charged with killing his 91-year-old wife were shown bloody crime scene photographs Monday as a forensic investigator recalled how the defendant appeared fidgety and anxious as the death was being looked into.
Albrecht Muth, 49, is charged with first-degree murder in the August 2011 beating and strangulation death of Viola Drath, a German journalist and socialite. He is participating via videoconference in the trial, which began last week in District of Columbia Superior Court, after doctors said his self-imposed starvation made him too weak to appear in court.
Prosecutors say Muth lived off a monthly allowance from his wife that had recently been reduced and that he killed Drath in hopes of collecting a portion of her estate. His lawyers say there's no evidence Muth killed Drath.
On Monday, Latoya Jamison, a forensic investigator with the D.C. medical examiner's office, testified that Muth was anxious but otherwise emotionless after she came to the couple's home to take photographs and inspect the body. She said he seemed especially curious to know the cause of death and whether any trauma was found that could explain it.
Prosecutors say Muth called police early on Aug. 12, 2011, to report finding his wife dead in a third-floor bathroom of the home they shared in Georgetown, a posh Washington neighborhood. Investigators initially treated the death as one of natural causes but named Muth as the suspect after finding no signs of forced entry and determining that he and Drath were the only ones home at the time she would have died.
With Drath's daughters and other relatives present in the courtroom, prosecutors presented graphic photographs of Drath sprawled out dead on the bathroom floor. A large, bloody gash covered her neck, another wound was found on the back of her neck and a fingernail had been nearly ripped off, Jamison said.
She said the position of Drath's body struck her as peculiar for someone who would have died from a fall, as Muth had maintained, or of natural causes. She said it appeared likely that Drath had died somewhere else in the house and then been placed in the bathroom, which prosecutors contend is what actually happened.
One of Drath's daughters, Connie Drath Dwyer, also took the stand Monday, saying Muth had begun pressuring her mother for money and insisted that he be able to keep items of household furniture upon her death. She recalled how he wore an eye patch the first time they met, saying he had lost his eye to injury while making a reference to having been a mercenary soldier in South America. She said she never again saw him with a patch and never noticed problems with his eye.
Prosecutors contend the eye patch was part of a web of elaborate fictions that Muth spun about his professional career and connections. He had claimed to be a brigadier general with the Iraqi army, but prosecutors say the military uniform he would wear around the neighborhood was actually purchased and that he had no authentic army connections.
After Drath died, he balked when asked to compose an obituary for her, even though he wrote about his wife all the time and prepared speeches for her to deliver, Dwyer said. She said she ultimately wrote up an obituary that said her mother had died after being injured in a fall, consistent with what Muth had told the family.
"The papers always like to have a cause of death," she explained. "I thought I had to put something in."