Aron Tapes Used to Rebut Defense
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 1998; Page B06
Proof that Montgomery County politician Ruthann Aron was thinking clearly when she tried to hire a hit man can be found in her own words, despite Aron's insanity defense, a neurologist testified yesterday for the prosecution.
Barry Gordon, of Johns Hopkins University, noted the onetime U.S. Senate candidate's attention to detail after she allegedly told the supposed hit man that she wanted to read the names of her physician husband, Barry Aron, and Baltimore lawyer Arthur G. Kahn "in the obits."
After the undercover detective told Aron to punch in her code name "10" when she wanted to reach him on his beeper, Aron pointed out that his paging service might not accept only two digits, said Gordon, referring to the tapes of secretly recorded conversation.
"Could a woman who could figure out that there may be a problem putting [two digits] in the beeper not understand what it meant to want to see someone in the obituaries?" Gordon said. "Okay, maybe she had problems. But she was still able to function."
Gordon and a psychiatrist for the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center testified yesterday that Aron's mental illness and any mild brain damage were insufficient to fit the definition of "not criminally responsible" under Maryland law.
For a second day, jurors heard mental health experts for the prosecution rebut assertions that Aron, because of severe depression and a borderline personality disorder, could not understand she was committing a crime or could not stop herself from doing so.
Someone affected by a serious mental illness would sound confused or rambling, said Christiane Tellefsen, the state psychiatrist. In the taped phone negotiations with the supposed hit man, Tellefsen said, Aron sounded like the same millionaire developer and ambitious politician who friends described as a careful planner.
"There's no evidence she's intoxicated. There's no hesitating. There's no waffling," Tellefsen said of Aron's voice on the tapes. "She's clear as a bell."
Gordon and Tellefsen told jurors to use their own common sense when considering Aron's history of mental illness.
Gordon contradicted defense experts who said tests showed Aron had brain damage. Those tests, Gordon said, illustrated insignificant, if any, abnormalities.
"Everyone is less than perfect; everyone has problems," said Gordon, who served as a consultant for prosecutors in John Hinckley's trial for shooting former president Ronald Reagan.
Even if jurors believe Aron has a mental illness, Gordon said they should consider other facts that point to a woman coping with daily life. For instance, Gordon said, while plotting the slayings, Aron maintained a busy appointment calendar and acted normal around people who knew her.
"She was still functioning," Gordon said, "and the evidence I saw was she was functioning well."
As she has through much of her 14-day trial, Aron covered her eyes and rocked back and forth in her chair.
Prosecutors are expected to call several current and former Montgomery Planning Board members today to testify about Aron's behavior last spring. Defense attorneys said they anticipate calling more mental health experts to rebut the prosecution. The jury is expected to get the case Friday or Monday.
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