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    Judge Rules to Allow Aron Tapes at Trial

    By Michael E. Ruane
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, February 24, 1998; Page B04

    A Montgomery County judge yesterday denied a pretrial defense motion to throw out secretly made tape recordings of what prosecutors say is Ruthann Aron trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband and a political enemy.

    The 15 audio recordings, several of which prosecutors say are between Aron and an undercover detective she thought was a hit man, are crucial pieces of evidence in the case against Aron, who was once a prominent county politician.

    Prosecutors acknowledged before Circuit Court Judge Paul A. McGuckian that the recordings made in June are flawed in places -- such as when the nine-second leader on some tapes failed to pick up the initial moments of a conversation, or when background noise marred the recording.

    Aron's attorneys attacked the tapes as potentially misleading and "bad evidence."

    Aron, 55, goes on trial tomorrow morning on charges that she tried to put out a contract on her estranged husband, Barry Aron, and Arthur G. Kahn, a Baltimore lawyer who testified against her in a lawsuit stemming from her unsuccessful 1994 primary bid for the U.S. Senate.

    She has entered a plea of not criminally responsible, which is basically an insanity defense.

    But her lawyers were attacking the prosecution's recordings yesterday.

    "There are inaudible portions of the tape," Aron's lead defense attorney, Barry H. Helfand, told the judge. "There are missing conversations. . . . I'm asking you to suppress all of the tapes, because what is left is very prejudicial."

    The recordings, he argued, "in reality may not be truly accurate of anyone's real intention, real knowledge. . . . They're trying to make it look like a duck. But it's not a duck."

    Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell, countering Helfand, said that most of the tapes are of very high quality, that what is missing or inaudible is of minor importance and that witnesses can testify about parts of conversations that were not recorded.

    "We don't think these flaws . . . go to admissibility [of the evidence] at all," he said. In one instance, he said, Aron was recorded having a conversation with William H. Mossburg Jr. at a skeet-shooting range. Mossburg, the Montgomery County trash site operator whom prosecutors say Aron first approached about a murder contract, cooperated with authorities.

    Some of the conversation is marred by the sounds of shotguns firing in the background, and other parts are inaudible. The bulk of the tape, though, is clear and relevant, Campbell said.

    The defense request was denied, the judge said, "for the time being."

    Aron's defense also sought, at first, to have other pieces of evidence thrown out -- such as an allegedly stolen Virginia license plate found in Aron's car, three pistols and a rifle found in her house, and books and pamphlets about false identities and how to make gun silencers.

    "It's this pile of inference upon inference," complained Judith R. Catterton, another of Aron's attorneys.

    But Campbell said he would present evidence that Aron talked of committing the killings herself before she allegedly approached Mossburg. That, he argued, is one of several items indicating a "predisposition" to the crime. The judge seemed to agree, saying at one point, "Isn't predisposition an element?"

    When one by one, the judge declined to throw out pieces of evidence, except for the rifle, Catterton withdrew the request to exclude the items.

    The judge also denied a defense request that the jury be sequestered in what is expected to be a three-week trial, but he told Aron's lawyers that they could raise the issue again later.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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