Aron's lawyers tell her to testify Move might generate sympathy for her at sentencing today

November 23, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

She has no job prospects and faces disbarment. Her husband wants a divorce. Creditors are suing her for thousands of dollars.

And today Ruthann Aron will learn whether she must spend more of her life behind bars.

Aron's lawyers are urging her to testify in a Montgomery County courtroom for the first time since her arrest in June 1997 in an attempt to generate sympathy for a virtually unsympathetic character.

The millionaire developer and former U.S. Senate candidate pleaded no contest during her trial in July to charges she hired a hit man in an attempt to kill her husband and another man. A four-week trial in March ended in a hung jury.

"She is a lawyer who won't be a lawyer anymore. She is a real estate developer who won't be able to conduct business. Undoubtedly she will have to leave the community. What does she have to look forward to?" asked Barry Helfand, one of her attorneys.

Aron could be credited with 17 months of home detention and jail time and set free, or be sent to a private psychiatric treatment facility.

Helfand said the last two Montgomery County women to be sentenced for similar crimes received 10- and 15-year terms with all but 18 months suspended.

"She has ruined her life. She has ruined her family. Why should she be punished more than anyone else?" asked Helfand, who will call Aron's two children to testify.

But Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell has indicated he will ask Circuit Judge Vincent Ferretti Jr. to follow guidelines and set a sentence of eight to 18 years, with time to be served at a state prison hospital.

Twice, prosecutors played taped conversations of Aron and the undercover police officer she believed would carry out the crimes. Jurors heard her matter-of-fact tone as she dickered over the price, spelled the names of the victims and chose the order in which they would die.

Aron's lawyers have attempted to soften that image, portraying their client as a mentally ill woman who had been sexually abused as a child, betrayed by her husband and humiliated by her political party.

Attorney Charles Cockerill said every day his client spends in jail exacerbates her depression and personality disorders.

"If we said she was a very sick person with cancer, would people be so unsympathetic? I do not think so," Cockerill said.

Help or hurt?

Veteran defense lawyers say it is hard to decide whether a client will help or hurt the case by testifying before sentencing.

"Many times when a client is found guilty or pleads guilty and it comes time for sentencing, they make excuses, they backtrack from candor," said Jack Rubin, a Baltimore attorney. "A judge who is upset with the case may get more upset with the answers they receive."

But can emotions sway Ferretti, a 10-year veteran of the bench and former president of the Maryland Bar Association, in this most public trial of a public figure?

Again, Rubin said, it is a question of how the defendant presents herself.

"A lot of judges, when it comes to sentencing, want to hear 'mea culpa,' and the client may not be able to say mea culpa honestly," he explained. "I don't think you can pull the wool over a judge's eyes."

Husband, lawyer may speak

Prosecutors in the Aron case are not without their powerful emotional symbols.

Aron's two intended victims, Dr. Barry Aron and attorney Arthur Kahn, could be called to address Ferretti. Both men have said they fear Aron, who owned a number of guns, including one with a night scope and muzzle flash suppressor.

Prosecutors say Barry Aron was targeted after he asked his wife for a divorce. Kahn testified against her in a civil suit she lost and vowed to work against her candidacy for local office.

Kahn has written a victim impact statement for prosecutors and said he will be in court.

John Harrison, another attorney who prosecutors contend was on Aron's hit list after he opposed her in a civil suit, said that while she needs treatment, "I really think of her as a career criminal.

"She's always pushing the law, always going one step farther," he said. "I think something is going to happen sometime. She's not done yet. She'll be in the papers again."

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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