Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

January 17, 2014

German man convicted of killing socialite wife

WASHINGTON — An eccentric German man who pretended to be an Iraqi army general and often boasted of his political and diplomatic connections was convicted Thursday of killing his 91-year-old socialite and journalist wife.

A jury deliberated for about half a day before finding Albrecht Muth, 49, guilty of first-degree murder in the August 2011 beating and strangulation death of Viola Drath. The German writer was found dead in their row home in Washington’s posh Georgetown neighborhood.

The jury also found that the murder was especially heinous and cruel. Muth faces a maximum punishment of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced on March 19.

“Justice has been served. It’s been a long wait,” one of Drath’s daughters, Connie Drath Dwyer, told reporters after the verdict. She said her mother, who had covered topics ranging from politics to fashion as a journalist, had been in excellent health and would likely have lived several more years had she not been murdered.

Prosecutors argued that Muth had a long history of verbal and physical abuse directed at his wife, including a conviction for assaulting her in 1992, and was motivated by inheritance money.  Muth claimed Drath died in a fall, but authorities ruled her death a homicide because of her severe injuries and investigators settled on him as a suspect after finding no signs of forced entry and concluding no one else was inside the home at the time.

The killing captivated Washington because of Drath’s longtime connections to the city’s diplomatic and social circuits. There were also revelations about the couple’s unconventional marriage — she was nearly a half century older — and Muth’s erratic behavior, which included assorted personas he adopted. Prosecutors said they were part of an elaborate web of lies.

“He was a good little con man,” prosecutor Glenn Kirschner told the jury. “He had some fraud working.”

Jurors heard about how he masqueraded as a brigadier general in the Iraqi army, strolling around his neighborhood smoking cigars and sporting a uniform he purchased. He wore an occasional eye patch and called himself a “Count” and a spy. He displayed a store-bought military certificate in his home even though he had no military background and the Iraqi embassy disavowed any connection to him.

The strangeness continued during the buildup to trial, when he sought to subpoena former CIA director David Petraeus as a potential witness, claimed to be receiving visions of the archangel Gabriel and demanded to wear his uniform during court appearances. He delayed the trial with intermittent fasting that left him hospitalized and, doctors said, too weak to appear in for trial.

A judge ruled Muth was deliberately manipulating the justice system and permitted him to follow the proceedings via videoconference. He did not testify.

Muth’s lawyers argued that no physical evidence connected him to the killing and said the case against their client was circumstantial.

But prosecutors cited repeated verbal and physical abuse toward his wife. Besides his assault conviction, they said he once threw soup on her head, berated her as an old woman whose best years were behind her and confided to a friend years before her death that he wished he had killed her.

They said Muth, who had no steady employment of his own, lived on a $2,000 monthly allowance from Drath that had recently been reduced. They said he made a bogus claim to a portion of her estate even though she had specifically left him out of the will.

The couple wed in 1990 following the death of Drath’s first husband and lived together in their row home in Georgetown, where they routinely organized dinner parties for dignitaries and other guests. Drath wrote often on German affairs for publications including The Washington Times and Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, and socialized in diplomatic circles.

But the marriage was one of convenience, Muth told homicide detectives during an interview played to the jury. They fought often, Drath said she planned on leaving him and Muth pursued several affairs with men, including one who eventually sought a protective order against him.

On the morning of Aug. 12, 2011, following a night of heavy drinking, Muth called police to report finding his wife dead inside a third-floor bathroom of their home.  

He said she had fallen, and investigators initially treated the death as one of natural causes. But the medical examiner’s office concluded within days that it was a homicide. Prosecutors contended at trial that Muth killed his wife in another room, moved her body into the bathroom and staged the positioning of the corpse.

During their investigation, detectives seized on a phony amendment to Drath’s will that Muth presented to her daughter after Drath died. The daughter, Francesca Drath, said the document — which purported to leave Muth with up to $200,000 of his wife’s estate — struck her as peculiar since the signature did not appear to be her mother’s and Muth had earlier been left out of the will.

Investigators who searched Muth’s laptop computer after the murder found Internet searches for flights to Iceland, extradition arrangements with Mexico and crossing the Canadian border.

“You could have seen it coming a mile away,” Kirschner, the prosecutor, told the jury about the murder. “You could have seen it coming two decades away.”

 

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP600421099 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Robot_Rich copy.jpg NASA’s Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nepal Everest Avalanc_Rich copy.jpg Another body pulled from snow in avalanche

    Search teams recovered a 13th body Saturday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mount Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results