WASHINGTON — Jurors in the trial of a German man charged with killing his 91-year-old wife were shown bloody crime scene photographs Monday and a portion of an interview with homicide detectives in which he referred to the couple’s relationship as a “marriage of convenience.”
Albrecht Muth, 49, also describes in matter-of-fact fashion how he found the lifeless body of his wife, Viola Drath, in a bathroom of their home but decided that it would be futile to try to resuscitate her.
“The obvious was obvious,” Muth can be heard telling the pair of homicide detectives.
Muth is charged with first-degree murder in the August 2011 beating and strangulation death of Drath, a German journalist and socialite. He faces life in prison if convicted.
The interview, recorded in a cramped police interrogation room in the days between the discovery of Drath’s body and her husband’s arrest, gave jurors their closest look yet at the defendant: Muth has been absent from the trial, participating passively through videoconference, after doctors said his self-imposed starvation made him too weak to appear in court. He has been fasting off-and-on for what he says are religious reasons.
The case is expected to go to the jury later this week.
Muth’s lawyers say he’s innocent and that there’s no evidence he killed his wife. Prosecutors, meanwhile, 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.
In video shown to jurors, detectives asked Muth to walk them through the discovery of Drath’s body but didn’t ask him whether he had anything to do with her death. When one of the detectives noted the large age difference and asks whether the couple was intimate, Muth replies, “We had a marriage of convenience.”
Muth called police early on Aug. 12, 2011, to report finding his wife dead in a third-floor bathroom of their home in Georgetown, a posh Washington neighborhood.
Investigators initially treated the death as one of natural causes but settled on Muth as the suspect after finding no signs of forced entry and determining he and Drath were the only ones home at the time she died. A crime scene technician testified Monday that none of the home’s windows had been opened. Another investigator said he found Internet searches on Muth’s laptop computer for flights to Iceland, crossing the Canadian border, extradition arrangements with Mexico and challenging a prenuptial agreement.
Also Monday, Latoya Jamison, a forensic investigator with the D.C. medical examiner’s office, said Muth appeared anxious and fidgety but otherwise emotionless after she came to the 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. One of Drath’s daughters testified that Muth told her that her mother had been having balance problems, but she said that surprised her since her mother had been in excellent physical health.
With Drath’s daughters and other relatives present in the courtroom, prosecutors presented photographs of Drath sprawled 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 happened.
One of Drath’s daughters, Connie Drath Dwyer, testified that Muth had begun pressuring her mother for money.
She recalled how he wore an eye patch the first time they met, saying he had lost his eye to injury and made 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 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 the military uniform he would wear around the neighborhood was actually purchased and that he had no authentic army connections.
Dwyer also testified that he balked when she asked him to compose an obituary for her, even though he wrote about his wife all the time. She said she ultimately wrote up an obituary that said her mother had died after 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.”
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