Aron trial jury selection goes slowly 200 fill out questionnaires

judge, lawyers talk to some

July 07, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

After a day of patient waiting and tedious questioning, scores of potential jurors went home last night with plans to return this morning as jury selection in the Ruthann Aron murder-for-hire trial continues.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Vincent E. Ferretti Jr., who at 4 p.m. announced to jurors that he would work into the evening to complete jury selection, reappeared just before 7 p.m. to apologize.

"When you're the judge, you have to take the heat," he told the group of nearly 200, who packed Courtroom One of the county judicial center. "I hoped to pick a jury in a day. It's clear I can't."

The announcement was met with loud groans, and a few raucous complaints when jury candidates learned they were to begin reporting back to the courthouse at 8: 30 a.m.

Aron, 55, a prominent developer, is charged with hiring a hit man to kill her husband, Dr. Barry Aron, and a lawyer. She was arrested on June 9, 1997 after leaving $500 in an envelope at the front desk of the Gaithersburg Marriott. The money was a down payment on $10,000 she had agreed to pay an undercover detective posing as a hit man, police said.

Aron has pleaded not criminally responsible -- Maryland's version of the insanity defense.

Three months ago, the case ended in a mistrial when a lone juror refused to convict. Fellow jurors complained that the panelist was influenced more by personal beliefs than by the evidence.

Yesterday's screening process involved more than 200 potential jurors, all of whom answered a five-page questionnaire designed to weed out anyone with possible conflicts.

Throughout the afternoon, candidates were called one by one into a private conference room to answer questions by the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers concerning their politics, any history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse and their acquaintance with more than 100 people listed as possible witnesses.

They also were instructed to disclose any personal beliefs that might interfere with their ability to be fair and impartial.

All but 20 of yesterday's group said they had some familiarity with the Aron case. In fact, several in the rear of the room openly read news articles about the case in their morning papers, despite the judge's warning against following news reports.

But by 4 p.m., the judge and the lawyers had questioned no more than 25 candidates.

Although the judge had hoped opening statements would begin today, his schedule for interviewing potential jurors extends into the afternoon, and last night it appeared jury selection would take a full second day.

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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