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    Doctor Tells of 'Subtle' Brain Damage

    By Katherine Shaver
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, March 11, 1998; Page B01

    A doctor testifying for the defense said yesterday that a neurologist found "subtle" signs of brain damage in Montgomery County politician Ruthann Aron after her arrest in June in a murder-for-hire plot. But the doctor conceded under cross-examination that another neurologist found no such signs.

    Lawrence Kline, director of psychiatry at Suburban Hospital, said he asked for a neurological exam after Aron told him that in 1995 her husband, Potomac urologist Barry Aron, threw her through two dining room doors, rendering her unconscious.

    The first neurologist who examined the report of her brain waves gave her a clean bill of health, Kline said, but a second neurologist he asked for an opinion concluded there was damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. That brain damage, combined with Aron's use of tranquilizers and a low sodium level, could have affected her behavior in the weeks preceding her arrest, Kline said.

    "The interpretation of [electroencephalogram, or EEG, results] is an area of some controversy and some disagreement among neurologists," Kline said under cross-examination.

    Aron's lawyers have conceded that she did indeed seek to hire a hit man to kill Barry Aron and a lawyer who had testified against her in a civil suit. But she has pleaded "not criminally responsible" -- Maryland's version of an insanity defense -- to the murder-solicitation charges.

    Prosecutors contend that Aron, an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate and former county Planning Board member, carefully plotted the slayings and later faked her way through psychological tests to avoid responsibility.

    Legal analysts have said the outcome -- whether Aron will be sentenced to prison or incarcerated in a state psychiatric hospital -- likely will hinge on which psychiatric experts the jury believes.

    Jurors were barraged yesterday with a lengthening list of Aron's purported mental problems.

    Two psychiatrists called by the defense had previously testified that Aron suffers from severe depression and borderline personality disorder.

    Kline said yesterday he believes Aron also has depersonalization disorder, temporal lobe encephalopathy and bipolar disorder.

    Damage to the frontal and temporal lobes in Aron's brain could have affected her ability to control impulses, Kline said. Kline did not say whether the brain damage stemmed from her collision with the dining room doors during the fight with her husband.

    Jurors first heard of the altercation from Barry Aron when he testified last week about his 31-year "roller-coaster" marriage to Ruthann Aron.

    Barry Aron told jurors that his wife fell backward four or five feet through a set of dining room doors as they struggled over his wallet during an argument about money. Barry Aron said he believed his wife had faked being unconscious before she went up to her bedroom, where she later threatened him with the gun.

    Sallyann Amdur Sack, a psychologist for the defense, testified yesterday that she initially did not find any "obvious" signs of brain injury in Aron but later changed her mind after consulting with other experts. She said a battery of tests also showed that Aron's reasoning and judgment were impaired and that Aron suffered severe depression and post-traumatic stress, stemming from possible sexual abuse.

    Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell suggested that Aron had exaggerated her symp toms for doctors after she became depressed from being arrested just as she was gearing up to run for the County Concil.

    Aron left the courtroom about 2:40 p.m. yesterday, after her attorneys said she was not feeling well.

    She did not return, but she chatted outside the courtroom with a friend.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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