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  •   Prosecutors Dispute Aron's Condition

    Ruthann Aron
    Ruthann Aron
    (Bill O'Leary/TWP)
    By Paul W. Valentine
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, March 14, 1998; Page B05

    Prosecutors and a defense neurologist bickered yesterday over whether Montgomery County politician Ruthann Aron carefully plotted the murder of her husband and a Baltimore lawyer or rushed recklessly into the failed scheme partly because of a mental disorder that deprived her of "executive functioning" ability.

    Georgetown University Medical Center neurologist Jonathan Pincus testified that Aron, in the past a suspicious and "almost paranoid" businesswoman, "threw caution to the winds" in openly negotiating a $20,000 contract on the telephone with an unknown "hit man," who turned out to be an undercover county detective recording the conversation.

    Aron, propelled by a "witch's brew" of mental disorders brought on by childhood abuse and the stresses of a troubled marriage, lost control of her ability to plan and do things in logical order and began to act bizarrely, Pincus told a jury of 10 women and two men in Rockville.

    She wore an outlandish disguise – floppy straw hat, dark glasses and trench coat on a warm June day – when she dropped off a $500 down payment for the hit man at a Gaithersburg hotel, for example, Pincus noted. Noting that she exchanged "pleasantries" with the presumed hit man during the secretly recorded phone call, Pincus said, "'Have a good weekend.' That's an unusual thing to say to a hit man."

    Prosecutors countered that Aron's conversation showed the opposite – that she methodically discussed the timing, price and method of killing the two men and was always careful not to disclose who she was.

    Barry Aron
    Barry Aron (TWP)
    "She's making choices, isn't she?" said Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell. "She's making executive choices. She's functioning."

    "Limping," retorted Pincus.

    Aron, 55, a wealthy Potomac developer and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 1994, is charged with soliciting the murders of her husband, Washington area urologist Barry Aron, and of Baltimore lawyer Arthur G. Kahn, who testified against her in a civil lawsuit stemming from her Senate campaign.

    Defense attorneys Barry H. Helfand and Judith R. Catterton have acknowledged that Aron tried to arrange the murders and are relying on claims that she was not criminally responsible – Maryland's version of an insanity plea.

    Defense psychiatrists and psychologists have testified that Aron suffers a range of mental conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, physical brain damage and borderline personality disorder, much of it stemming from physical and sexual abuse by her father and husband.

    Yesterday, Pincus, who evaluated Aron after extensive interviews, testified that Aron fits Maryland's legal definition of being "not criminally responsible" – that is, she has a mental disease or disorder and could not appreciate the criminal nature of her conduct orconform to the law.

    According to trial testimony, Aron was arrested in June 1997, after she sought the help of William H. Mossberg Jr., a former trash recycling center operator, as a go-between in finding a hit man. Mossberg went to police, who arranged to have a detective pose as a hit man and set up the taped telephone conversations.

    As evidence of Aron's mental imbalance, Pincus argued that it was irrational for Aron, who is Jewish, to have sought the help and trust of Mossberg, who had made crudely antisemitic remarks to her.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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