Jury Hears Aron Soliciting Hit Man
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 3, 1998; Page D01
When Ruthann Aron, a Montgomery County politician, started putting out feelers last summer for a hit man, she was set on "vengeance" against two lawyers whom she wanted "eliminated," said William H. Mossburg Jr., Aron's go-between, who testified yesterday at her murder-for-hire trial.
The lawyers had "lied on her" in a civil suit, Mossburg recalled Aron telling him, and she wanted them "gone."
"I'm kind of imposing on our friendship -- is this okay with you?" Aron said, according to a police recording in which she asked Mossburg to find her a hit man. "Well," she added with a laugh, "it's something to do."
The police audiotapes, the first of which were played for the jury yesterday, are dramatic evidence against Aron, the former Planning Board member and onetime U.S. Senate candidate accused of plotting to kill her husband, urologist Barry Aron, and Arthur G. Kahn, a Baltimore lawyer. Prosecutors say Ruthann Aron started out looking for a hit man to kill Kahn and another lawyer who testified against her but later changed her mind and put out a contract on her husband and Kahn.
The tapes capture Aron talking to Mossburg in a manner that alternates between the casual chatting of a friend (she ended one conversation with "Take care, dear") and the serious tone of a businesswoman negotiating a deal. "You trust this person?" she asked Mossburg, according to the police tapes. "I have a right to ask."
Aron's attorneys have said she has a serious mental disorder and cannot be held responsible for any crime. Although conceding that Aron did try to hire a hit man, her attorneys have suggested that police or Mossburg entrapped her or encouraged her to go further than she intended.
At one point during Mossburg's five hours on the stand yesterday, defense attorney Barry H. Helfand handed Mossburg a half-inch-thick transcript of his conversation with two Montgomery police detectives about Aron approaching him to find her a hit man. Helfand noted that, during his two-hour conversation with detectives, Mossburg never told police Aron had asked to have people "eliminated."
"Is it possible," Helfand asked Mossburg, "that between then and today . . . in telling the story a number of times, the word 'gone' became the word 'eliminate'?"
"I can't give you an answer to that," Mossburg said.
Helfand and prosecutors both noted Mossburg's own history with hit men and county politics. Helfand, who referred to Mossburg as "Billy," had represented Mossburg's youngest son in 1995 after he was arrested on charges of trying to hire a hit man to kill his father. Those charges were later dropped.
Mossburg, a former trash recycling center operator, also said he didn't trust Montgomery County government, police or prosecutors because he suspected the county of trying to put him out of business by successfully suing him for $2.6 million after a fire at his recycling center.
Mossburg, wearing blue jeans and hiking boots and with his turquoise "Mossburg Farms" ball cap resting on the witness stand, gave blunt answers that often prompted laughter from about 50 spectators.
Mossburg said Aron first asked him to find her a hit man when they met for drinks at J.J. Muldoon's, a Gaithersburg restaurant. While watching the Winston Cup stock car races on television as Aron chatted about her ambitions for the County Council, Mossburg said, he suddenly heard Aron saying she believed in "an eye for an eye" and "vengeance."
"All of a sudden, I'm realizing she wants to hurt somebody," Mossburg said. He told her that the "baddest dude" he knew was a man named "J.D." and that he'd "make some calls" and get back to her.
Thinking that Aron might have been trying to set him up, Mossburg said, he told his two sons, who urged him to call authorities.
Police recorded several of their phone conversations, and Mossburg wore a hidden radio transmitter during a meeting with Aron at a Montgomery skeet shooting range, where the sound of gunshots often drowned out their words.
Helfand asked Mossburg why an intelligent and successful woman such as Aron would have, in her right mind, met with him at a restaurant down the road from Montgomery police headquarters and at a shooting range where they both knew several people. Helfand also asked Mossburg about how detectives reacted when they recorded Mossburg's first phone conversation with Aron inquiring about a hit man.
"I overheard the phrase," Mossburg said. "It was: 'This is the mother lode.'"
The supposed hit man, an undercover Montgomery police officer, is expected to take the stand when Aron's trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.
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