By ERIC TUCKER
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.
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.
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 flights to Iceland, extradition arrangements with Mexico and crossing the Canadian border.