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Murder charge upgraded in expat socialite case

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Murder charge upgraded in expat socialite case
Photo: screenshot of ABC news, WJLA.com
12:04 CET+01:00
In a case that has fascinated Washington DC for several months, the charge against Albrecht Muth for the killing of his wife Viola Drath, 91-year-old German expat socialite, intellectual and journalist, has been raised to first degree murder.

Muth, 44 years younger than Drath and the sole suspect, had initially been charged with second degree murder in August 2011, when Drath was found dead in her home. A coroner said she had been killed by strangulation and blunt force trauma.

But according to a report in the Washington Post, the charge was elevated Tuesday based on evidence presented to a DC Superior Court grand jury. The jury described the killing as “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel" and that Drath “was especially vulnerable due to age."

Muth, who was recently taken to a psychiatric hospital to determine whether he is fit to stand trial, pleaded not guilty to the original charge and has displayed increasingly erratic behaviour in court.

According to ABC news, he fired his lawyers, claimed that the murder was a “hit” by Iranian agents, and asked to appear in his military uniform, which prosecution lawyers said had been tailored for him in South Carolina.

US media reports suggest the marriage had long raised eyebrows in political and social circles in Washington. Friends speculate that Drath, a respected, stately figure, had been drawn to Muth by loneliness after the death of her first husband in the 1980s.

Muth himself described the 20-year relationship as “a marriage of convenience,” and court records showed that the marriage had occasionally been violent.

Drath was born in Düsseldorf, western Germany, and moved to the US after World War II. She wrote several plays and books, promoted German-US relations, and penned columns for both The Washington Times and German financial daily Handelsblatt.

The Handelsblatt wrote in an obituary last August that Drath had reported for the newspaper for 27 years, initially about the US art market, and then on foreign and security affairs.

Muth's origins are less clear. ABC said the German native was described as a “prelaw honour student” and “godson of an East German politician” in the couple's wedding announcement in 1990.

He was also considered very fluent in international affairs and would often name-drop prominent politicians. Over the years, Muth has described himself as an East German spy, a CIA operative, “Sheik Ali Al-Muthaba,” the name he goes by on his website, and a brigadier general in the Iraqi army.

The Local/bk

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