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    Jury Selected for Ruthann Aron Trial

    Ruthann Aron
    Ruthann Aron enters the courthouse Wednesday
    (Bill O'Leary/TWP)
    By Katherine Shaver and Michael E. Ruane
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Thursday, February 26, 1998; Page C01

    A jury of 10 women and two men was chosen yesterday to decide whether former U.S. Senate candidate Ruthann Aron is a devious criminal who plotted to have her husband and a Baltimore lawyer killed, or a mentally ill woman who cannot be held responsible for the alleged crimes.

    The long-awaited trial began yesterday with five hours of jury selection, in which a dozen jurors and six alternates who will decide Aron's fate were culled from a pool of 150 Montgomery County residents after nine months of publicity surrounding the case.

    Potential jurors were asked whether they knew any of the 120 potential witnesses -- a list that read like a Who's Who of Montgomery County politics -- several of whom were inside the courtroom during the jury selection.

    Ruthann Aron
    Ruthann Aron, right, and her mother Freida Singer, left- bundled up with shades, arrive at the courthouse.
    (Bill O'Leary/TWP)
    That list included County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), State's Attorney Robert L. Dean, several Montgomery County planning commissioners with whom Aron served on the Planning Board, Montgomery Sheriff Raymond M. Kight (D) and two General Assembly delegates.

    But to many in the Rockville courtroom, the 55-year-old Aron was the center of attention, as she greeted a prosecution witness -- Kight, no less -- with a warm hug.

    Holding the arm of her white-haired mother, Frieda Singer, Aron arrived at the courthouse looking stone-faced and wearing a purple corduroy jumper, lavender turtleneck and brown leather boots. A throng of 10 photographers followed her every move through the metal detector.

    Prosecutors say Aron, a wealthy Potomac developer and an unsuccessful candidate for the 1994 Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, took out a $20,000 contract on the lives of her husband, urologist Barry Aron, and Baltimore lawyer Arthur G. Kahn, who testified against Aron in a libel suit stemming from her Senate campaign. The man whom Aron allegedly approached to find a hit man instead went to police, who said they later taped Aron negotiating the two slayings.

    Aron has pleaded "not criminally responsible" -- Maryland's version of an insanity plea -- to two charges of solicitation to commit murder. If prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Aron ordered the killings, the defense would have to show that Aron more than likely was insane at the time and cannot be held legally responsible. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. If found insane, Aron could be committed to a state psychiatric hospital.

    In addition to being asked about their experiences with crime and whether they know anyone involved in the case, potential jurors were asked whether they were biased against suspects who are "of Jewish descent" or wealthy. They also were asked whether they or anyone close to them suffers from depression, bipolar disorder or any other psychological illness.

    The questioning also hinted at what could be a new element in the defense: Potential jurors were asked whether they or anyone close to them had "any experience with child abuse, suicide prevention programs or domestic violence."

    Aron's attorneys have said they will build their defense around the argument that she suffers from a mental disorder, but they have not before implied that child abuse would be raised as an issue. While friends have said Aron and her mother have always been extremely close, Aron was estranged from her father to the point that he wrote her out of his will, saying she had been "cruel" to him. Aron's father, David Greenzweig, was murdered in 1994 in New York. Two drifters were convicted in the slaying.

    Potential jurors also were asked whether they or anyone in their immediate families had ever participated in any political campaign or rally for William E. Brock III, who defeated Aron in the Republican senatorial primary.

    Potential jurors filed up to Circuit Court Judge Paul A. McGuckian one by one, but an electronic "husher" that filled the courthouse with a sound similar to a gushing river kept others from hearing.

    Aron spent much of the day huddled with the lawyers and the judge, as potential jurors were questioned.

    After jury selection, McGuckian denied a defense motion to suppress Aron's alleged statement to police after her arrest. Defense attorney Barry H. Helfand argued that police had solicited statements from Aron by sitting close to her and using other interrogation techniques to make her feel uncomfortable, even after she had requested an attorney.

    Montgomery Detective Edward Tarney said that he never questioned Aron about the allegations after she requested an attorney but that she had blurted out, "Maybe I just lost it. If I could have these 24 hours back and I knew I was being set up, things would be different."

    Aron's trial will resume today at 9 a.m. with opening arguments, followed by prosecution testimony from several police detectives and William H. Mossburg Jr., the Montgomery trash transfer site owner whom police say Aron approached about finding a hit man.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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