WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - A German man who pretended to be a well-connected Iraqi army general has been convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of his 91-year-old socialite wife.
The jury deliberated for about half a day before reaching a verdict Thursday in the case against 49-year-old Albrecht Muth. You could see the relief on the faces of Viola Drath’s family members as they left court that afternoon.
"She may have been 91, and some people would say, 'well she had a long life," said the victim's daughter, Connie Drath. "Yes she did, but she was in excellent health and we're quite certain she would have lived years longer."
Drath was 44 years older than her husband, and police say he beat and strangled her to death inside their Georgetown home, then tried to make it look like an accident.
"I thought he was a renter, I thought he rented because he was so young," said neighbor Susan Jones on her first impression of Muth when she and her husband moved to Georgetown a decade ago.
Eventually, she learned that the eccentric man known for wearing military uniforms was married to fellow neighbor Viola Drath, despite a 40-plus year age difference.
Jones said she had heard rumors, but never actually witnessed any abuse.
"I just thought that they were an eccentric couple and that they were in love," she explained.
Jones was called to testify in the trial because of what she heard through the wall during the night of the murder:
"I heard something that startled me a bit," she said. "It was a kind of a little sigh...and then a sinister kind of laugh afterwards."
She said she thought it was a different neighbor playing with his baby.
"This is what I was thinking," said Jones. "I mean, who would think that there was a murder next door?"
It was only later she put it all together.
Once arrested, Muth told the judge there would be no trail and proceeded to starve himself down to 90 pounds for what he called 'religious reasons,' and had to be hospitalized.
Muth watched the proceedings from a hospital bed and did not testify, and the trial went on as witnesses like Muth’s male love interests and the victim’s family members all told their stories.
Prosecutors said Muth was violent, abusive and motivated by money. Muth's lawyers argued there was no evidence connecting him to the killing and they said prosecutors' case was circumstantial.
As for Muth’s absence and its effect on the jury:
"The fact hat he wasn't there, some jurors mentioned it, but the judge instructed us to not necesarily vote for or against it," explained jury foreman Joe Paul.
"We're very pleased all the way around," concluded Connie Drath after the conviction. "Justice has been served. It's been a long wait."
Neighbor Susan Jones said she's happy for the Drath family, and is convinced this was justice.