Jury Hears Tape of Aron Plotting Deaths
By Katherine Shaver and Michael E. Ruane
"There are two jobs," Aron told the supposed hit man. The second one, she said, should look like an accident.
"You want a car accident?" asked police detective Terry Ryan, posing as the hit man.
"Yeah," she answered from the pay phone a few blocks from her Potomac home.
"What about a suicide?" he asked.
"If it would pass muster," she said, "but preferably the first."
Where could he find this person? "Montgomery," Aron answered in clipped phrases. "Medical. . . . He works in an office building next to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital." Then she gave his name: "A like apple, R-O-N," she said. "First name, B like boy, A-R-R-Y." Look for a taupe Acura, she told him. Barry Aron had night meetings planned for June 9 and 17. "Probably the car would be in the lot," she said.
She never mentioned that urologist Barry Aron was her husband.
For more than an hour yesterday, Ruthann Aron, 55, held her head in her hands as jurors listened to the most dramatic and damaging tapes yet of Aron negotiating a $20,000 contract on the lives of her husband and Arthur G. Kahn, a Baltimore lawyer who had testified against her in a civil case.
Jurors heard how the one-time U.S. Senate candidate took the code names "Sam" and "10" as she finalized the deal with the undercover detective and her go-between. They heard her desire to read her targets' obituaries as proof of their deaths, her promises that she wasn't going to "play any games" and her deep suspicions that she could be set up.
Aron's attorneys have conceded that the tapes don't lie. Aron, they have said, indeed tried to hire a hit man. But they have argued that police may have entrapped her in conversations that are not on the tapes. Beyond that, Aron's attorneys have argued, childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father and a previously undisclosed brain injury made her mentally ill and not criminally responsible for her actions.
Why, defense attorney Barry H. Helfand pointed out yesterday, would a clearly thinking person drop off a hit man's $500 down payment at a Gaithersburg hotel and stand out in her own disguise?
Scott Frothingham, the front office manager at the Washingtonian Center Marriott Hotel, testified that a woman in a floppy straw hat, glasses and trench coat approached him, pressed a manila envelope on him and asked him to take it to the front desk.
Because he was struggling with a guest's luggage, Frothingham said, he suggested she take it there herself. She declined, handing it to him along with a $1 tip.
Defense attorney Judith R. Catterton, apparently seeking to demonstrate the absurdity of the outfit, dressed herself before the jury in the wrinkled trench coat and floppy white hat.
"Let's see if we can re-create the look," Catterton said as she put on the clothes. "Something like this?"
"With glasses," Frothingham replied, smiling. Catterton asked if he thought it was "odd" behavior, on a warm June day. Frothingham agreed, adding, "It didn't really faze me until after the fact."
Before the jury entered the room yesterday, Helfand reminded Circuit Court Judge Paul A. McGuckian that the defense had privately asked for a mistrial late Monday, a request that had gone unnoticed by courtroom observers.
While on the stand Monday, William H. Mossburg Jr., the man whom police say Aron approached to find her a hit man, had blurted out allegations that Aron had tried to kill her husband earlier by serving him poisoned chili -- before she approached Mossburg about finding a "professional." McGuckian denied the mistrial request.
The judge had denied an earlier defense motion for a mistrial when a court clerk mentioned the chili charge in front of the freshly picked jury. Aron is set to stand trial in April on a separate charge of attempted murder in connection with those allegations.
Aron's trial on solicitation to commit murder continues today with testimony expected from Kahn, Barry Aron and John Harrison, an Alexandria lawyer who also had once testified against Ruthann Aron and whose name allegedly appeared on Aron's hit list.
Editorial aide Karen Hilliou contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company