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Defense: Georgetown Murder Suspect's Presence at Trial is Constitutional Right

Defense team objects to proposed video conference option rather than physical presence in the courtroom for trial.

Memos filed in DC Superior Court weigh constitutional rights for a murder defendant. Patch file photo.
Memos filed in DC Superior Court weigh constitutional rights for a murder defendant. Patch file photo.
Defense attorneys for Albrecht Muth, who is charged with first degree murder in the strangling death of his late wife, argue in a new memo to the DC Superior Court that proceeding to trial without the defendant's physical presence in the courtroom would violate his constitutional rights. 

Muth, a German man, is charged in the murder of his elderly wife Viola Drath, who was killed in her Georgetown home in August 2011.

In July, Prosecutors in the Georgetown murder case advised D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell F. Canan that the defendant's on-again, off-again hunger strike should be seen as a voluntary waiver of his constitutional right to be present at trial. His fasts at one point put him at "imminent risk of sudden death," according to his doctor.

Canan has previously proffered a similar interpretation and indicated that the court has the capability to provide a two-way video feed so that Muth can be "present" for his trial.

Muth's defense attorneys argue that a video feed is not akin to presence, especially on the first day of trial. 

Moreover they argue that the prosecution's suggestion that Muth's fast was disruptive and justification to try him in absentia violates his right to free exercise of his religion. Muth has said his fasts are for religious reasons. 

During the last status hearing Canan noted that Muth's fast and inability to appear physically in court, "Conceivably could go on indefinitely," said Canan. "It just cannot be that way."

"The government may not condition Mr. Muth's right to be present at trial upon relinquishing his right to the free exercise of his religion," his lawyers wrote in a their August memo. 

A trial date is set for Dec. 2.

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