When Aron was hiring hit man, she knew what she was doing, court told Doctor says defendant isn't brain-damaged

March 19, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

A doctor who helped with the prosecution of President Reagan's would-be assassin testified yesterday that Ruthann Aron was not brain-damaged and knew what she was doing when she took out contracts on the lives of her husband and a lawyer.

In a breezy three-hour monologue, Dr. Barry Gordon gave an informal tour of Aron's brain that charmed and captivated the jury and visibly angered defense lawyers.

Gordon is a neuropsychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University who acted as a consultant in the prosecution of John Hinckley, who was found innocent by reason of insanity in the 1981 attack on Reagan.

Gordon told a Rockville jury that Aron's active lifestyle, which included a position on the local planning board and an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate, did not indicate severe impairment.

"Everyone is less than perfect and if we're lucky to live long

enough, we'll acquire other problems," Gordon said to chuckles from jurors.

Barry Helfand, Aron's lawyer, failed to have the judge put limits on Gordon's testimony as an expert witness. His motion to have everything that Gordon had said removed from the record also failed.

Gordon dismissed the testimony of Aron's college fiance that she was incoherent during a telephone call in the days before her June 9 arrest.

"People are allowed to be disjointed every once in a while -- about one mistake in every thousand words," Gordon said, drawing a laugh from the jury.

Aron, 55, is charged with hiring a hit man in a failed attempt to have Dr. Barry Aron and lawyer Arthur Kahn killed. Her defense team has acknowledged she committed the crimes, but contend she was mentally incapable of appreciating the consequences of her actions.

To reinforce the defense's image of a fragile, abandoned woman, Helfand read an undated handwritten note from Aron to her husband and two adult children that berates them for their callous attitude toward her.

The note, in part, said: "I am paralyzed from the hurt by the three of you. I am moving on. You deprive me of the love, as I understand it, warmth and respect I feel that I have begged, cajoled and threatened to ask that you recognize my needs and wishes to no avail. You treat me as though I am a crazy bitch."

But a second witness for the prosecution, Dr. Christiane Tellefsen, said the note was an example of Aron's narcissism, a ** trait that most often got her in trouble.

Tellefsen, a state psychiatrist, said Aron thought that she had special abilities and that rules that applied to everyone else did not apply to her.

Gordon and Tellefsen said the secretly recorded conversations between Aron and the police officer posing as a hit man proved she not only had the mental capacity to plot the murders but also knew she would have to cover her tracks.

"When you listen to the tapes, there's nothing fuzzy about her," ++ Tellefsen said. "She's clear as a bell."

And Tellefsen dismissed the findings of a defense witness who said Aron suffered from a borderline personality disorder because she cut a toe with a nail clipper.

"She's a toe clipper, not a self mutilator," she testified.

Instead, Tellefsen said, Aron suffered from a long-term, low-grade form of depression, a personality disorder that included the narcissistic traits and anxiety and depression consistent with being a middle-aged woman in jail for the first time.

"Ruthann Aron said she has never been happy, but that doesn't mean dysfunctional," Tellefsen said. "We should all be that dysfunctional."

The trial today enters its fourth week, with the case expected to go to the jury on Monday.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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