Defense rests case in trial of Aron Tape of discussions of murder plot likely to figure in arguments

March 20, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

The defense rested yesterday in the murder-for-hire trial of Ruthann Aron, ending 15 days of riveting, often conflicting testimony.

Jurors will have today off to ponder the words of 47 witnesses as lawyers prepare closing arguments that they hope will tip the verdict their way.

But the words that probably everyone concerned is thinking about -- the ones that likely will be played again Monday and carry most weight -- are Aron's own, captured on tape.

Twice the jury of 10 women and two men has heard the tape of Aron plotting the murder of her husband and a lawyer with someone she believes is a hit man.

Barry Helfand, Aron's lawyer, has tried to take the sting out of the tapes by admitting that his client is guilty of hiring a hit man to kill Dr. Barry Aron and lawyer Arthur Kahn.

But he said he worries that the impact of the tapes will spill over as the jury deliberates whether Aron was mentally able to appreciate the criminality of her actions and conform her conduct to the law.

"My concern all along has been the tapes," Helfand said after court ended yesterday. "The tapes are difficult to overcome when you just listen. What you hear is a cold, calculating crime."

Aron is heard dickering over the price of the two murders, deciding whether to make them look like accidents or suicides, and spelling her victims' names.

Helfand hoped to make Aron, 55, a "genuinely more sympathetic figure" by "baring her soul" and letting the jury know about her abusive father, rocky marriage and cosmetic plastic surgery.

Helping him build that case is the testimony of a platoon of doctors, who found Aron was suffering from a number of disorders, among them, brain damage, severe depression, borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.

On the other side are four doctors who testified for the prosecution and said Aron has a long-standing, low-grade depression, is narcissistic and possibly faked her psychological tests to look sicker than she is.

The conflicting opinions worry Helfand, whose client could be sentenced to a maximum of two life terms in prison or given probation.

"This woman has so much at stake," he said. "But we are dealing with the exact-inexact science called psychiatry."

Although he has the burden of proof on the question of insanity, the standard is much lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required to establish guilt in a criminal trial, Helfand noted. He said he must prove it is more likely than not that Aron is mentally ill.

"I only have to push the nose of the football over the 50-yard line, and we're supposed to win," Helfand said.

The trial, which began on Feb. 26 with crackling opening statements by Helfand and prosecutor I. Matthew Campbell, came to a close with the rebuttal testimony of four doctors -- two for each side.

When testimony ended, Circuit Judge Paul A. McGuckian looked to his right and smiled at the jury.

"We've come a long way, almost a month. I know that's hard to believe, it's gone so fast," he said, drawing a laugh from the jurors. They have heard testimony that filled almost 3,800 pages of transcripts.

Before he sent them home for a long weekend, McGuckian reminded them to commit "no slip-ups," like reading newspapers or watching television accounts of the trial.

As Helfand packed up his boxes of notes and books, someone pointed out that his black ballpoint pen was leaking on his white dress shirt -- like the ink blot tests discussed for hours at the trial.

"What does it look like?" he asked courtroom spectators.

"Bats," was the unanimous reply.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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