Psychiatrist Recalls Aron's Rage in 1970s
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 1998; Page D01
Montgomery County politician Ruthann Aron suffered symptoms of a mental disorder 20 years ago that could have led her to confuse long-held rage against her father with aggressive feelings toward her husband, a defense psychiatrist testified yesterday in Aron's murder-for-hire trial.
"She hated her father," wrote Nathan Billig, a Washington psychiatrist, after therapy sessions with Aron from 1974 to 1978. "She considered murdering him. She wished he would die."
Billig testified yesterday that in retrospect, it appears that Aron had suffered from borderline personality disorder, a sometimes severe illness that can lead people to commit violent acts because they lose control of their impulses.
When Billig read that his former patient had been charged in June with trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband, Potomac urologist Barry Aron, "I immediately thought about the intense rage at her father," Billig said.
People with borderline personality disorder, Billig said, "often don't discriminate the targets of their rage."
Aron, a prominent developer and onetime U.S. Senate candidate, has pleaded not criminally responsible -- Maryland's version of the insanity defense -- to taking out a $20,000 contract on the lives of her husband and a Baltimore lawyer who testified against her in a defamation suit.
To be found not criminally responsible under Maryland law, defendants must show that a mental disease made them unable to control their actions or unable to understand that what they were doing was illegal. People found guilty but not responsible usually are sent to a state psychiatric hospital until doctors and a judge deem them not to be a threat to themselves or others.
After six days, prosecutors concluded their case yesterday by presenting more police detectives who testified that Aron had plotted the slayings for at least one month and had even made plans to carry out the slayings herself, including buying equipment for a homemade silencer. A detective also testified yesterday that Aron wrote to her husband in a 1991 wedding anniversary card that he was "mean, negligent and rejecting."
Defense attorneys, who opened their case yesterday, have conceded that Aron tried to hire a hit man. However, they said she cannot be held responsible for her actions because she is mentally ill. A brain injury makes Aron unable to control her impulses, her attorneys said, and she suffers severe depression because her father sexually abused her as a child.
Billig said Aron never mentioned in therapy that her father had molested her but said it is "possible" such abuse occurred. He noted that Aron told him that her father was "a brutal man" with an "erratic temper." In the 1970s, he said, psychiatrists didn't pursue the possibility of sexual abuse in their patients as much as they do now. Even today, he said, it still can take several years of therapy for a patient to disclose sexual abuse.
Aron's father, David Greenzweig, was bludgeoned to death in 1994 in New York in a robbery. Two drifters were convicted in his death, which came in the middle of Aron's heated GOP primary race for the Senate seat. Montgomery County detectives looked into the slaying of Aron's father after her arrest but found nothing connecting her to it.
Borderline personality disorder, which affects about 2 percent of the population, causes a pattern of unstable relationships, poor self-image and trouble controlling one's impulses, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. People with the disorder may make intense efforts to avoid being abandoned, become inappropriately angry or make suicidal threats.
Billig testified that he had not talked to Aron in 20 years but that she showed many symptoms of the illness in the 1970s, when she was "very fragile," quick to fits of anger and "almost paralyzed with fear" about her safety and her children. While she appeared a "tough, sometimes bullying, confident person," he said, that was a facade disguising a personality that was extremely insecure and anxious.
But Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell brought out through his questioning that despite all her anxieties, Aron carried on a demanding and successful life -- going to law school and raising two children.
"I don't want people to mistakenly assume she's crazy," Campbell said.
"I can't say whether she's crazy," Billig answered.
"The mere fact that a person has a disorder doesn't mean a person is crazy, does it?" Campbell asked.
"Crazy is a lay term," Billig said.
Staff writer Karl Vick contributed to this report.
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