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    Husband Says Aron Is Mentally Ill

    By Katherine Shaver
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 6, 1998; Page B01

    Even after his wife tried to hire a hit man to kill him, Barry Aron said yesterday, "a part of him" still loves Montgomery County politician Ruthann Aron, and he can make sense of her actions only by believing that she is mentally ill.

    "It's hard to imagine anybody who's been as nurturing, caring, giving and has done as many good things as Ruthann could do anything as horrible as what has happened without being mentally ill," Barry Aron told jurors under cross-examination by defense attorneys in his wife's murder-for-hire trial.

    His wife of 31 years hadn't shown symptoms of serious depression since she suffered postpartum depression after the birth of their first child in 1970, Barry Aron said. Still, he added: "The thought that she did it without being mentally ill is really impossible for me to bear."

    The statements from Barry Aron, called as a prosecution witness, appeared to support defense arguments that Ruthann Aron cannot be held responsible for any crime because of a serious mental illness. However, Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell quickly moved to portray the Potomac urologist as wrestling with difficult emotions rather than diagnosing his wife's mental condition.

    "Do you still love her?" Campbell asked him.

    "There's a part of me that loves the person I married, that took care of me when I was sick, that gave me two wonderful children," Barry Aron said softly. But, he added, "there's a romantic part that died. . . . I'm sad it's come to this, but I still have positive feelings for the positive parts of her."

    After Barry Aron's statements, the prosecution concluded its case yesterday with testimony that 17 days before her arrest, Ruthann Aron bought specialized bullets and supplies for a homemade silencer. Those purchases appeared to confirm what jurors heard Aron saying in secretly recorded audiotapes this week: that she was so concerned about the "confidentiality" of hiring a hit man that she had considered carrying out the killings herself.

    It was during an outing at a Chantilly firing range two weeks before her arrest that Aron first inquired about silencers, according to testimony. After she shot poorly during target practice, a friend testified, she also floated the idea of finding a hit man.

    Elliott Burka, one of Aron's business friends and a campaign contributor, recalled that he shot well the day he and Aron practiced target shooting at Blue Ridge Arsenal. Aron, equipped with her .38-caliber revolver, "was shooting all over the target," he said.

    On the drive home, Burka said, Aron admired his shooting. "Have you ever considered being a hit man?" he recalled her asking. "My answer," he said, "was that I'd make a lousy hit man, that I have a conscience." Aron dropped the subject, he said.

    The subsonic bullets that Aron bought at the range that day were the kind Burka said he had told her were necessary for a silencer to be effective. Hollow-point bullets are especially powerful because they expand after hitting the target, leaving a large exit wound, another witness said.

    A Home Depot store employee testified that Aron bought a lawn mower air filter and two lawn mower mufflers. Prosecutors have said Aron had manuals that showed how to build a silencer from lawn mower mufflers.

    Police said Aron was arrested after asking an undercover detective posing as a hit man to kill her husband and Baltimore lawyer Arthur G. Kahn, who had testified against her in a civil suit stemming from her 1994 U.S. Senate campaign.

    Defense attorney Barry H. Helfand also questioned Barry Aron yesterday about why he had signed five "agreements of separation" promising that his wife would get almost all of his assets if he divorced her. Barry Aron said he would sign to prove his devotion after an argument.

    Then Helfand showed the jury an undated note in Barry Aron's handwriting that said, "I am going to have an affair if I want to, and if you don't like it you can shoot yourself in the head." Barry Aron said that he did not recall the note but that he may have written it after an argument.

    Staff writer Fern Shen contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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