Prosecutors: DC trial can start without defendant
WASHINGTON (AP) — District of Columbia prosecutors say a German man charged with killing his elderly wife is forfeiting his right to be present for his own trial by engaging in lengthy hunger strikes, and a judge would be authorized to proceed without him.
Albrecht Muth is awaiting trial in the August 2011 strangulation and beating death of his 91-year-old wife Viola Drath, a fellow German expatriate and journalist, inside the couple's Georgetown row home. His periodic bouts of starvation, and resulting physical weakness and hospital stays, have delayed court proceedings and exasperated the judge and lawyers on both sides.
A doctor last spring said Muth, 49, was at imminent risk of death and that it would be unsafe to bring him to court, though he also said Muth was keeping himself alive by occasionally eating.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan is considering holding a trial in Muth's absence if he continues selectively eating and making himself unavailable for court. Prosecutors said in a court filing Friday that the trial should move forward, saying Drath's family deserves justice and calling Muth's hunger strikes a "deliberate and obstreperous attempt to avoid trial."
Through his behavior, they say, he is voluntarily forfeiting his constitutional right to attend his own trial.
"In refusing to eat, Muth is disrupting the trial proceedings no less than a defendant who yells in the courtroom," prosecutors wrote in urging the trial, currently scheduled for December, to move forward. "The courtroom door stands open to Muth who, if he chooses, can regain his health through regular nourishment."
Besides refusing to eat, Muth has also claimed to be a brigadier general with the Iraqi army and that his wife was killed in an Iranian hit job — assertions prosecutors say are completely false.
His public defender was out of the office Monday and did not return a call seeking comment.