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Competency Finding Challenged In Socialite’s Death

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File photo of police tape (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

File photo of police tape (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense lawyers said Thursday they would challenge a finding that a German man is competent to stand trial in the killing of his much older wife inside their Washington home.

Doctors at St. Elizabeths Hospital reversed course this week and found Albrecht Muth, 48, who claims to be a brigadier general in the Iraqi Army and to receive visits from the archangel Gabriel, mentally fit for trial. The hospital’s doctors had previously said Muth was too delusional to stand trial, though they said he’d likely improve through treatment.

But in a report dated Tuesday, they said they now believe that Muth is more deceitful than delusional, can convincingly assume different personas to suit his needs and is attempting to manipulate the legal system. They noted that he embarked on a 40-day fast right after being told that he was likely to be found competent for trial, an indication that he may be “feigning psychotic symptoms.”

Weakened by his hunger strike, he was absent from a hearing Thursday in D.C. Superior Court in which prosecutors sought to push forward with the case.

“It’s a pattern that makes it more and more obvious that he’s gaming the system,” prosecutor Glenn Kirschner said.

Muth is charged with first-degree murder in the August 2011 death of Viola Drath, a 91-year-old German journalist and socialite who was his wife of more than 20 years. Drath was found strangled and beaten in a bathroom of the couple’s row home in the city’s fashionable Georgetown neighborhood, where they regularly entertained dignitaries and other bold-faced names at dinner parties.

Detectives investigating Drath’s death found scratches on Muth’s forehead and said he had forged a document indicating that he was entitled to a portion of Drath’s estate upon her death. Muth has denied wrongdoing, suggesting instead that his wife was killed in an Iranian hit job.

The judge in the case had initially hoped for a trial this fall, but at Thursday’s hearing, public defender Dana Page said she would need more time to mount a challenge to the competency finding. The case has been essentially put on hold amid psychiatric examinations and discussions of Muth’s physical and mental health.

“This is a complicated, incredibly complicated, case with tons of material that we just need to be able to review,” Page said.

Judge Russell Canan agreed to keep Muth confined at the psychiatric hospital until further notice, even though the doctors said he no longer needed to stay there.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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