Aron's jury deadlocked after 2 days Judge urges jurors to re-examine their opinions

Push for decision

Defense lawyer says mistrial likely if no verdict reached today

March 26, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

After two days of deliberations, the jury in Ruthann Aron's murder-for-hire trial is deadlocked, possibly the first step toward a mistrial.

The jurors sent three notes yesterday to Montgomery County Circuit Judge Paul McGuckian, apparently telling him of their inability to reach a unanimous decision.

That prompted McGuckian to bring the 10 women and two men back into the courtroom for the reading of the so-called "dynamite charge," a statement that reminds them of their duty and that is intended to move them to a verdict.

He urged them to re-examine their views to reach an agreement "if you can do so without violence to your individual judgment."

The comment drew laughter from three jurors, including the forewoman.

"This is serious," snapped McGuckian before continuing to read.

The judge told the jurors to go home, consider his instructions and be prepared to deliberate today.

Several Montgomery County lawyers recalled cases in which the jury responded to a judge's charge and returned a verdict the next day.

After the jury left the courtroom, McGuckian was asked if the jury is deadlocked.

"That is a reasonable surmise," he responded.

Unlike with previous questions from the jury, McGuckian kept yesterday's notes private.

Lead defense lawyer Barry Helfand said it is "rare" for a Montgomery County jury to deliberate for two days without reaching a verdict.

He predicted a mistrial if the jury remains deadlocked today with no possibility of reaching a consensus.

"After [today] we get into a difficult area," Helfand said. "This is not trial by combat. The minority is not supposed to be put upon by the majority."

Aron's trial began Feb. 25. She has pleaded not criminally responsible to charges she hired a hit man in June to kill her bTC husband and a lawyer. Her defense team has admitted the former Potomac businesswoman and U.S. Senate candidate committed the act, but has argued that mental illness prevented her from knowing right from wrong.

The jurors are weighing a verdict that could lead to a prison sentence for Aron or commitment to a state mental hospital for treatment.

The jury deliberated 12 1/2 hours over the two days. Their voices and occasional laughter could be heard in the courtroom. They considered 15 days of testimony from 47 witnesses that filled 3,729 pages of transcripts.

A mistrial in this case could affect Aron's April 6 trial on charges that she tried to poison husband Barry Aron by lacing his bowl of homemade chili with a fatal dose of prescription drugs.

Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell had said the state would re-evaluate its position on trying the attempted murder case if it got a conviction on the murder solicitation charges.

But after the deadlocked jury left the courtroom last night, Campbell indicated the poisoning case will likely go forward. "At least we know what we'll be doing next month," he said.

In the event of a mistrial, Helfand said, he would prefer a court date in November because of difficulty arranging the schedules of expert medical witnesses.

But the prosecution might have a political reason for delaying until mid-November a new court date or offer of a plea bargain that would avoid a costly and time-consuming retrial.

State's Attorney Robert Dean, who was appointed to fill an unexpired term, is running this year to retain the job.

Montgomery County politicians have said privately that Dean, a Democrat, would never consider a plea bargain during the campaign that would give opponents ammunition.

"We're at their mercy," Helfand said of the prosecution. "They control the case. They can retry it and retry it."

Still, Helfand said he was pleased by the jury's diligence.

"There's an awful lot of good people can see in Ruthann," he said. "Maybe I only touched one, but so be it."

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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