Husband says Aron could be mentally ill 'Hard to imagine' she could hire hit man

March 06, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

At some point late in their rocky marriage, defense lawyers say Dr. Barry Aron pulled out a small pad of paper emblazoned with the name of a drug company and wrote a one-sentence note to his wife, Ruthann.

"I am going to have an affair if I want to and if you don't like it, you can shoot yourself in the head."

That note, enlarged to the size of a desk by Ruthann Aron's lawyers, startled some jurors yesterday in the fifth day of her murder-for-hire trial.

The note and her husband's reaction blemished the mild-mannered persona of Dr. Barry Aron that prosecutors had established.

His faced turned red as he was confronted by the 3-foot-by-5-foot placard. While acknowledging the original note was in his handwriting, he said he could not remember writing it. When pressed, he said he could have written or said it to "assert my rights."

In his second day on the witness stand, Aron, 56, continued to portray his wife as a warm and caring person who also was capable of flying into rages over perceived slights.

Despite a charge that she took out a contract on his life in June, Barry Aron acknowledged he still cares deeply about his wife.

"There's a part of me that loves the person that I married," he said, voice quivering. "Who took care of me when I was sick, who gave me two wonderful children. But there's a part of us that died. The romantic part of it that died. I'm sad it's come to this."

Seated 20 feet away, Ruthann Aron, 55, bowed her head and pressed her clenched fist to her lips.

Aron's lawyers have conceded that their client hired a hit man to kill her husband and Arthur Kahn, a lawyer who testified against her in a defamation suit. But they hope to prove the former Potomac developer and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate suffered from a mental disorder that made her not criminally responsible.

For the first time yesterday, defense lawyer Barry Helfand acknowledged outside the Montgomery County Circuit courtroom that he might put his client on the witness stand if he senses his medical experts cannot sway the jury.

But Barry Aron helped his wife's cause when he was asked by a defense lawyer if he thought Ruthann Aron was mentally ill.

"It's hard to imagine that anybody who has been as nurturing and as caring and as giving, and has done as many good things as Ruthann, could do anything as horrible as what has happened without being mentally ill," Aron said. "The thought that she did it and is not mentally ill is really impossible for me to bear."

During cross-examination, Helfand continued to press Aron about his wife's mental state and his insistence that she had never tried to commit suicide.

Helfand asked Aron to explain a 1972 letter to the Air Force asking to have his transfer from Andrews Air Force Base to California voided because of Ruthann Aron's mental state. The letter said she had twice attempted suicide in their seven years of marriage.

"Ruthann said, 'I'm not going to California. You write a letter,' " Aron explained.

During afternoon testimony, Elliott Burka, an acquaintance of Ruthann Aron, described a trip to a Virginia shooting range 17 days before her arrest June 9.

On the 30-minute drive, Ruthann Aron asked about silencers and Burka told her the best way to muffle a shot was subsonic ammunition that lowers a bullet's velocity below the sound barrier, he testified.

After shooting for about 45 minutes, Aron showed Burka what she had purchased at the range's gun shop: subsonic hollow-point ammunition for her revolver, a black .38-caliber Detective Special.

Burka testified that on their way back from the range, Aron complimented his marksmanship and asked if he had ever considered becoming a hit man.

"No," he replied, "I'd be a lousy hit man. I have a conscience."

She dropped the subject but brought it up again the next day at a Pikesville gun show.

Burka said Aron took him to a book vendor at the show and pointed out the Palladin Press book "How to Be a Hit Man," noting that it was part of a Montgomery County murder trial.

In response, Burka said he pointed out to her a book on silencers.

The prosecution is expected to rest today after questioning three police officers. The defense will then call its first witness, a doctor.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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