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  •   Aron Gets Three Years in Murder Plot

    By Katherine Shaver
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, November 23, 1998; Page A01

    The Aron Tapes
    Ruthann Aron at her first trial in February.
    Ruthann Aron at her first trial in February.
    (File Photo)

    Tape Transcripts
    In secretly recorded tapes, Aron is heard plotting with a "hit man" actually a detective.
    Hiring a Hit Man
    June 4, 1997
    Negotiating a Killing
    June 7, 1997
    Fine-Tuning the Contract
    June 8, 1997
    Montgomery County politician Ruthann Aron was ordered yesterday to serve three years in the county jail for trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband and a lawyer under a sentence that a judge said will punish her but also allow her to get psychiatric help.

    The sentence was substantially more than the one year in a private New York psychiatric hospital at her own expense that Aron's attorneys had sought. But it also was a marked departure from the eight to 18 years in a state prison that sentencing guidelines recommend. With standard good behavior credit, she could be released after serving about two years.

    Aron, 56, dabbed at her eyes as Circuit Court Judge Vincent E. Ferretti Jr. pronounced sentence at the end of an emotional, daylong hearing during which she gave her first public explanation of how, as a wealthy Potomac developer in the midst of planning a campaign for the Montgomery County Council, she ended up calmly ordering hits on two men.

    "My mind did blow. I did crack up," Aron told the judge, speaking in a husky, barely audible voice. But it was not "an excuse," she said, "for the most unconscionable and most unmentionable thing a human being can do."

    As she apologized to her adult son and daughter, who sat in tears in the courtroom's second row, Aron's voice broke. "Dana and Josh, I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart," Aron said, breaking into tears. "I'd rather be dead than to bring you to this day."

    She then bowed her head and recited aloud a Yom Kippur prayer for the confession of sins, asking God for forgiveness, and collapsed into her chair in loud sobs.

    For soliciting the murder of Arthur Kahn, a lawyer who had testified against Aron in a lawsuit stemming from her failed U.S. Senate campaign in 1994, Ferretti sentenced Aron to 10 years in prison with all but 35 months suspended. With credit for 17 months served, including the almost nine months she spent on home detention throughout her two trials, Aron will spend 18 months in jail for that count.

    Ferretti also sentenced Aron to five years in prison for soliciting the murder of her husband of more than 30 years, Potomac urologist Barry Aron, but suspended all but 18 months. For that sentence, he gave her no credit for time served and tacked the time onto the first sentence.

    Although the county jail usually does not take inmates for longer than 18 months, Ferretti said it has made exceptions in the past and must follow his sentence. Ferretti ordered her to continue taking her medication while in jail and also to continue seeing her private psychiatrist while there.

    All told, Aron will serve three years in the county jail. Afterward, she must serve five years of probation, during which she must continue to get psychiatric treatment.

    Ferretti said the suspended prison sentence was longer for the charge relating to Kahn because he was a relative stranger, unlike Barry Aron, with whom Ruthann Aron was "in the throes of a relationship," Ferretti said.

    Neither Barry Aron nor Kahn attended yesterday's sentencing.

    "Clearly Ms. Aron needs treatment," Ferretti told about 50 onlookers, including three jurors from Aron's two trials. "No one wants her to commit this or any other crime again, but she also deserves punishment because this crime deserves punishment."

    Aron's attorneys had argued throughout her two trials the first one ended in a hung jury and the second in Aron pleading no contest to the charges that the politician suffered a lifetime of mental illness. She solicited a hit man, they said, only after she had a breakdown caused by an emotionally abusive husband who threatened to leave her and also by a borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder, which caused wide mood swings between mania and severe depression.

    Prosecutors countered that Aron, whose voice was captured on 15 police audiotapes, had carefully and coolly contracted for the killing of two people who threatened her political ambitions only after she considered making a silencer and killing them herself. Her husband's plan to divorce her would have embarrassed her on the eve of her County Council campaign, prosecutors said, and she blamed Kahn for speaking out about her past legal troubles in business deals and ruining her Senate bid.

    Aron, dressed in a beige linen blazer and black pants and flanked by her four defense attorneys, stared into space or buried her head in her hands during much of the eight-hour hearing.

    Prosecutors argued that Aron could get sufficient psychiatric treatment at the Patuxent Institute for Women in Jessup, but Aron's attorneys said she needed intensive drug therapy and long-term individual psychotherapy that only a hospital could offer.

    Non-binding state guidelines show that in Maryland, judges' sentences for two counts of solicitation to commit murder generally range from eight to 18 years. However, defense lawyer Judy Catterton told Ferretti that, from 1987 through 1996, 17 of the 30 people sentenced in Maryland for that crime received sentences below the guidelines.

    In the two cases in Montgomery County, Catterton said, two women convicted of soliciting hit men to kill their husbands received sentences of 18 months in jail.

    "This is not about a denial of responsibility," Catterton said of Aron. "This is about an illness."

    Despite Barry Aron's absence from the hearing, the contentious relationship between him and Ruthann Aron permeated yesterday's hearing.

    "Barry, I wish you were here," Aron said yesterday during her five-minute statement. "I loved you for 31 years. We had our rough times, but I have always tried to please you. I've always tried to get your approval."

    Stephen A. Friedman, Barry Aron's attorney, said the couple met for about three minutes last week during a jail meeting requested by Ruthann Aron. He said the meeting ended after Ruthann Aron asked for a witness. Friedman said Barry Aron "always wanted her to get medical help."

    The Arons' divorce is pending, as is his $7.5 million lawsuit against her alleging emotional distress and her $24 million counterclaim alleging that he caused her breakdown by prescribing drugs that aggravated her mental illnesses.

    The couple's grown children testified on their mother's behalf, telling the judge that their mother has apologized profusely and needs psychiatric help.

    Dana Aron Weiner, 28, a doctoral candidate in psychology in Chicago, told the judge tearfully that her mother has already received her greatest punishment.

    "She's lost her credibility, her reputation, her family as she knew it, her dignity, her lifestyle, her husband almost everything she ever had," Weiner said. Speaking of herself, her brother, Josh, 26, and a few close family friends who have remained faithful, Weiner said, "What she has, you're looking at."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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