Son of Aron testifies father didn't believe she was mentally ill He raises new questions about handgun found 5 months after her arrest

July 22, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Ruthann Aron's son testified yesterday that in the two years before her arrest, she appeared increasingly mentally ill but his father refused to accept it.

Josh Aron, a 26-year-old Wall Street trader, described her as emotional, upset and inclined to abandon relationships more and more quickly during that time. Whenever he tried to discuss his concerns with his father, he said, Dr. Barry Aron brushed them off.

"He said, 'Your mother's not crazy, she's difficult,' " Josh Aron said in Montgomery County Circuit Court yesterday. The son, who did not testify during Ruthann Aron's first trial, offered a fresh look yesterday at his family's life.

He appeared as a defense witness for his mother, a prominent Potomac developer who is accused of hiring a hit man to kill her husband and another man.

Aron, 55, has pleaded not criminally responsible to the charges, contending that mental illness prevented her from distinguishing right from wrong.

Besides shedding light on his mother's mental health, Josh Aron's testimony also raised new questions about a gun found in his parents' walk-in closet five months after the arrest. Although police searched the closet at the time of Mrs. Aron's arrest June 9 last year, they found no gun.

But in November, as Mrs. Aron was preparing to post bond and leave jail, her husband reported finding the .38-caliber handgun with a sawed-off sight in a duffel bag in the closet. A conversation with the housekeeper revealed that she had found it under a garment bag, Barry Aron testified.

Defense lawyers have suggested that someone other than Ruthann Aron might have put the gun there after her arrest.

Yesterday, Josh Aron described searching the closet from top to bottom the day after his mother's arrest, looking for guns and opening every drawer and bag in the closet. The gun was not there at that time, he testified.

"I went through all of it -- any space that could have held a gun," he said.

Asked about his parents' marriage, he said, "At times, it was destructive and at times he was the only support she had.

"My mother was a good mother," he testified. But her demands for constant and increasing expressions of affection and support grew to unreasonable levels, he said. Concerned that her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in 1994 would be destructive to her, he said, he refused to participate.

The relationship with his mother remains strained, he said. He testified that he stayed with friends Monday night in preparation for his appearance in court rather than stay with either parent. He said he planned to return immediately to New York afterward.

In other testimony yesterday, a psychologist who recently administered psychological tests to Ruthann Aron said they confirm "with a high degree of certainty" that she is not faking mental illness.

In Aron's first trial, which ended in a hung jury, mental health experts took opposing views of whether Aron was faking symptoms of borderline personality disorder, a condition in which patients can shift from neurosis to psychosis.

The recent tests, specifically designed to detect "malingering," are considered far more reliable and valid than tests given to her between August and the start of her first trial in February, said Dr. Michael Kelly, a clinical psychologist with the University of Maryland Medical School.

Kelly said the earlier tests were susceptible to false positives in assessing malingering, particularly when the subject suffers from borderline personality disorder.

"Isn't it possible that Mrs. Aron could have borderline personality disorder and be exaggerating her symptoms?" asked Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell.

"Yes, it is possible," Kelly replied. But he said the evidence more consistently indicated she was not.

In the case of an earlier test by another doctor, who concluded Aron was faking illness, Kelly testified that the test data compiled by Dr. Sydney Binks of Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup contradicted the findings in Binks' own report.

"He just brushed over and seemed to ignore his own data," Kelly said.

The trial, which is in its third week, continues tomorrow with more medical testimony. The trial is being heard by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Vincent E. Ferretti Jr. in Rockville.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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