Remark by witness raises possibility of mistrial in Aron murder-for-hire case Mossburg makes statement over prosecutors' objection

March 03, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Just minutes before the jury in Ruthann Aron's murder-for-hire trial was set to go home for the day, a witness blurted out a potentially damaging allegation: Aron hired a hit man only after poisoning her husband failed.

Jurors in a Rockville courtroom looked stunned, and lawyers hurried to the judge's bench for a conference after William Mossburg, over the objection of prosecutors, made his statement, which could lead to a mistrial motion.

The Montgomery County state's attorney's office had separated the murder-solicitation trial from the trial on attempted-murder charges involving the alleged poisoning of Dr. Barry Aron with a batch of chili. Lawyers on both sides have been careful not to prejudice the jury with mention of the so-called chili trial, which is to begin in April.

Mossburg changed that, raising the question of a mistrial at the end of a grueling 3 1/2 -hour cross-examination by defense lawyer Barry Helfand.

Helfand asked Mossburg why Aron would pick a man she hardly knew to help her find a hit man.

"Do you want to know what I told the doctors at [Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital]?" Mossburg asked. "I told them that I heard "

"Objection," shouted Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell.

"Hold it, hold it," said Judge Paul McGuckian.

But Mossburg plowed on, leaning into the courtroom microphone. "She told me she mixed up a batch of chili and it didn't work and she wanted professional help."

After the bench conference, McGuckian warned Mossburg: "You are not to make a reference to what you made a reference to again."

Asked whether a mistrial was possible, Aron lawyer Judy Catterton shrugged and said, "We don't know who the 'she' is. It could be a Perkins doctor. Don't assume."

Aron's lawyers, who usually go to the courthouse lobby for a news conference immediately after the day's testimony, instead went to a conference room and shut the door. It was the second time since the trial started Wednesday that jurors had been improperly tipped to the other case.

Just after the selection of the jury, the clerk read the murder-solicitation charges, then continued on the attempted-murder charge before McGuckian could stop her.

Aron, 55, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of charges that she took out contracts on Dr. Barry Aron and Arthur Kahn, a Baltimore lawyer who testified against her in a defamation lawsuit. The former Potomac businesswoman and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 1994 has pleaded not criminally responsible to the charges.

Yesterday morning, jurors heard secretly recorded conversations of Aron and Mossburg at a June 6 skeet-shooting tournament as Aron allegedly plotted to hire a hit man, gunfire punctuating questions about cost and methods.

Prosecutors contend that Mossburg contacted law enforcement officials after he was asked on June 1 to help find a hit man to eliminate two lawyers.

Posing as a go-between for the hit man, he wore a tiny transmitter disguised as a pager on his breast pocket. Officers taped the conversations from a nearby truck.

"If he [the hit man] asks me what I want," Aron says on the tape, "I don't know what language to use."

Mossburg counsels her that it's like ordering fast food: "You walk up to the counter. You say you're hungry. The man says, 'What do you want, hot dogs, hamburgers or half-smokes?'"

Later, Aron says, "You realize if this is a guy we can't trust, then I'm gone."

"We're all toast," Mossburg replies.

Mossburg was scheduled to finish testifying this morning before prosecutors call Detective Terry Ryan, the officer who posed as the hit man.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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