Aron faking illness, prosecutors allege Doubts cast on tests indicating suspect is mentally imbalanced

March 18, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Sun Staff

Prosectors began chipping away yesterday at the defense team's portrait of a fragile Ruthann Aron, saying she faked her answers on psychological tests to appear mentally unbalanced.

A psychologist from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital center told a Rockville jury that Aron was a textbook example of someone "faking bad." That phrase is used by mental health professionals to describe someone who is malingering, or trying to do poorly on tests.

Dr. Kevin Richards said Aron exaggerated her symptoms and showed an unlikely combination of symptoms on a 567-question, true-false test he gave her in October.

As the jury of 10 women and two men took notes, Richards often disagreed with the opinions of doctors who took the stand for the defense during six days of testimony at Aron's murder-for-hire trial.

Last week, two doctors for the defense -- one an expert on malingering -- insisted that Aron was not faking on the tests and could not do so without being detected.

Aron, 55, has pleaded not criminally responsible to charges that she hired a hit man in an unsuccessful attempt to kill her husband, Dr. Barry Aron, and lawyer Arthur Kahn. Her lawyers acknowledge she took out the contracts, but say the former Montgomery County politician and businesswoman was unable to comprehend the consequences of her actions.

In their cross-examination of Richards and another expert yesterday, Aron's lawyers tried to undermine Richards' conclusions but scored their biggest points by berating the second psychologist for sharing the defendant's scores on the Internet.

Richards said Aron scored 120 on the test he gave her, with 100 being a red flag for faking.

She showed the same tendencies -- and scored a 115 -- a month later on a test given by her own neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Jack Spector, Richards noted.

Then, to illustrate his point, Richards took transparencies of graphs plotting Aron's test results and placed them over an almost identical graph from a nationally recognized textbook on faking.

Richards pointed out the "striking similarities" between the textbook graph and Aron's tests.

Richards, who tested and interviewed Aron for 11 1/2 hours at Perkins Hospital, was the first of at least four doctors scheduled to testify for the prosecution.

He told the jury that he disagreed with the assessment of three doctors for the defense who said Aron suffered from major depression and brain damage and was not criminally responsible.

Aron had a low-grade, long-term depression that never required medication or hospitalization from other doctors she saw over 20 years, Richards said.

"To look at her history and to be making more of it now than it was made of at the time is a problem," he said.

Richards said Aron had features of borderline and narcissistic personality disorder, but she didn't specifically fit either one.

Secretly taped conversations between Aron and a police officer posing as a hit man and Aron and William Mossburg, the go-between, provided an accurate picture of her motives and mind-set, Richards said.

Aron was "well aware" that what she was doing was wrong as she negotiated prices and discussed whether the murders should look like suicides, accidents or robberies turned violent, Richards said.

And she showed sophistication, he said, when she took code names and created a disguise of an auburn wig, floppy hat, dark glasses and trench coat when she dropped off the $500 down payment at a hotel.

Police officers who testified earlier said a disguised Aron walked past them in the lobby and they did not recognize her.

"It may have been funky looking," Richards said. "It wasn't meant to be a fashion statement. It was meant to be a disguise and it was effective."

Dr. Sidney Binks, the second Perkins staff member to testify, said he found evidence of "mild" malingering during his five hours of evaluation last month.

Binks has been a neuropsychiatrist since 1995 and is not board certified in his specialty, two points attacked by defense lawyers.

Aron's lawyer, Judith Catterton, ripped into Binks' credibility and ethics when she displayed an Internet message he sent to doctors specializing in mental health. Binks sent the e-mail the day after the trial started, asking for help with his diagnosis.

As she held an enlargement of Binks' message, Catterton asked the doctor why he made public Aron's test scores and condition without her permission.

Binks said he did not use Aron's name in his message and referred to Aron only as a woman in her 50s.

Catterton noted that at least one person made the connection -- Spector -- who sent a message to Binks twice, taunting him for making the plea for free advice on a pending court case.

"I thought you were fully qualified to do this one on your own," Spector wrote. "See you in court."

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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