Aron may testify, her lawyers say Defendant on trial in murder for hire case calmer this time

July 16, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Ruthann Aron's defense moves to center stage today with her lawyers saying the prominent developer may eventually take the stand to answer charges that she hired a supposed hit man to kill her husband and another man.

"It's a possibility that she will testify," said defense lawyer Harry Trainor. "But we won't make that decision until the end of the trial, and until we have considered all the evidence."

Compared with her demeanor in her first trial, which ended with a hung jury on March 30, Aron appears more composed and in control this time. In March, the one-time U.S. Senate candidate often reacted visibly to the testimony: doubling over, heaving silent sobs, pressing a clenched fist to her teeth.

Although there have been moments in the past week when Aron buried her head in her arms for hours, most of the time she appears businesslike, alert, even animated. She totes a backpack and shopping bag daily and takes notes through much of the testimony.

Her mental condition is at the heart of her defense, and the key testimony today is expected to come from a psychiatrist who treated Aron 20 years ago and concluded that she suffered from serious mental illness.

Aron, 55, has pleaded not criminally responsible to the charges -- the equivalent of an insanity defense. She is accused of trying to kill her husband, Dr. Barry Aron, a urologist who had informed her he wanted a divorce, and Arthur Kahn, a lawyer who opposed her in a civil suit in the 1980s.

The retrial is being heard by Judge Vincent Ferretti Jr. in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

The prosecution wrapped up its case yesterday at the conclusion of five days of testimony -- a pace at least one day quicker than the first trial, primarily because Aron's lawyers are spending less time cross-examining witnesses.

Instead of the flamboyant Barry Helfand, Aron's defense lawyers this time are Charles Cockerill and Harry Trainor, two attorneys with more subdued styles.

Prosecutors I. Matthew Campbell and Debra Grimes yesterday presented a string of witnesses, mostly police officers, who detailed Aron's activities on June 9, 1997, the day of her arrest. For three days, she had been engaged in secretly recorded conversations with an undercover officer she believed to be a hit man.

On the surface, Aron that day would have appeared to have been going about her normal business, popping into a delicatessen near her Potomac home, stopping by her bank, meeting colleagues on the Montgomery County planning board for golf. From the moment she emerged from her house at 8: 40 a.m., surveillance officers followed her every step of the way.

Police photographed her from a distance after she donned a green trench coat, red wig and floppy hat and strolled into the Washingtonian Marriott in Gaithersburg to leave a $500 deposit for her husband's supposed killer. Within two hours, she was on the golf course, playing with friends.

For days, according to the tapes, Aron had worried about being set up.

Yet when Sgt. Fred Cissel finally walked up to her in the parking lot of the Rockville Courtyard Marriott shortly before 5 p.m. to arrest her, she showed little reaction, he testified.

"OK," she said.

"She seemed very calm, she did not seem surprised, and she seemed pretty much resigned to the fact that she was being arrested," Cissel said.

In conversation with Detective Edward Tarney at the police station, Aron said she had "just cracked," he testified.

"She said, "You might as well take me out back and shoot me. My life is over,' " Tarney said.

Her comment so alarmed him that he had the jail notified of the possible need for a suicide watch.

In Aron's fanny pack, police found pink note papers with handwriting describing the location of the money drop and the name and address of Kahn, as well as the name and address of John Harrison, another lawyer who opposed her in a civil case.

In an envelope in the glove box, they found $2,000 in $100 bills.

A gun enthusiast, Aron had commented to the undercover officer that she had considered taking on the task herself. At the time of her arrest, her car contained instructions for making a silencer and many of the materials required to do it.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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