Doctor Defends Change in Competency Opinion
Defense suggests Drath family, media influenced St. Elizabeths' doctors as competency hearing for Albrecht Muth continues this week in DC Superior Court.
Opinions from St. Elizabeths Hospital about whether accused Georgetown murderer Albrecht Muth is fit to stand trial have evolved since he was first to admitted to the hospital in February -- an evolution a doctor from the hospital defended Monday as Muth's defense suggested the hospital changed their position due to outside influences.
Dr. Michele Godwin, a licensed clinical psychologist from St. Elizabeths Hospital, explained over the course of five hours of testimony Monday how her opinion on Muth's competency shifted since he was first to admitted to the hospital in February: as her team received information, it changed its opinions, she said.
Muth is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife Viola Drath, who was found dead in her home in August of 2011; a medical examiner determined that the cause of death was strangulation and blunt force trauma.
In reports issued from February through July, Muth was deemed incompetent, but a September letter from St. Elizabeths found him competent to stand trial.
DC Superior Court Judge Russel F. Canan is presiding over the competency hearing, which will continue through Wednesday and possibly Thursday this week.
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On Monday, defense attorneys questioned Godwin's opinion, as well as their client's ability to "rationally understand the proceedings against him or consult with his attorneys to a reasonable degree of rational understanding."
Public defender Dana Page focused on two primary issues with Godwin's opinion: that Muth has throughout his stay at St. Elizabeths' maintained his identity as an Iraqi general and the possibility doctors were unduly influenced by the defense's experts, the victim's family and the media.
During her testimony Godwin said when St. Elizabeths first opined Muth was delusional, her team did so "based on data available" from initial tests and information received from Muth himself.
Page questioned the timing of the change of mind from St. Elizabeths, noting the shift came not long after the New York Times article detailing Muth's unusual lifestyle and habits and Godwin's own collateral interview with the prosecution's doctors, Dr. Robert Phillips and Dr. Mitchell Hugonnet.
Page said she didn't believe Godwin relied much on new data and instead was influenced by the Drath family, who Page suggested could offer mostly second-hand knowledge of Muth's behavior.
Page said a suggestion by the prosecution's doctors that St. Elizabeths might not have all of the information it needed prompted the hospital to seek out these collateral interviews with the family.
"They were not necessarily trying to get us to change our opinion," Godwin said about Phillips and Hugonnet.
The fact Muth purports to be an Iraqi general remains, though said Page, who argued that it was a fixed, false belief, i.e. a delusion. But Godwin said Muth was observed to be able to adjust that belief to fit a situation as needed.
"It appears that Mr. Muth's discussion of the Iraqi general is volitional...under his control," Godwin said.
"The belief is bizarre, but it does not mean that he is delusional," she added.
At the end of Godwin's testimony, Canan asked her how she would characterize earlier findings that Muth was delusional and incompetent. Were they "erroneous?" he asked. He also wondered if the collateral interviews and information about Muth's behavior before his wife's murder were the "basis for change" in St. Elizabeths finding, rather than a determination Muth has been "restored."
Godwin said when her team makes a diagnosis, they start by looking at the possibilities and choose the one that makes sense based on the information available. She said they were "slowly getting new information" and "over time" came to new conclusions.
On Tuesday the prosecution will present its final witness and then the defense will bring forward witnesses of its own.