Experts Differ on Aron's Inkblot Tests
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 1998; Page C04
In the end, it came down to dueling experts and what Ruthann Aron saw in five inkblots.
Jurors in the Montgomery County politician's murder-for-hire trial watched yesterday as psychologists and neuropsychologists alternated taking the witness stand to argue that the other side's experts were simply wrong.
After 15 days of testimony from 47 witnesses, including 11 mental health experts, the evidence stage of Aron's trial concluded with jurors awash in a sea of psychiatric terms and starkly contrasting opinions about the defendant's brain.
The jury will take today off and hear closing arguments Monday. Then it will begin deliberating whether the onetime U.S. Senate candidate is so mentally ill that she can't be held criminally responsible or so calculating that she faked insanity after getting caught soliciting two murders. Aron is accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband, Potomac urologist Barry Aron, and Baltimore lawyer Arthur G. Kahn last June.
The debate over Aron's sanity culminated yesterday with contrasting interpretations of the images Aron said she saw in inkblots after her arrest. In one, Aron told psychologists, she saw "a big spider" that looked like a "creature" dripping in blood and eating body parts for dinner.
On Tuesday, Kevin Richards, a psychologist at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, testified for the prosecution that people often give such dramatic and violent responses when they are faking their answers to appear mentally ill.
Yesterday, Michael Kelley, an Oxon Hill psychologist, testified for the defense that such an answer does not suggest malingering and that Richards wrongly scored the inkblot test by, for example, giving Aron a score of "unusual" for mentioning that she saw a spider. Kelley gave Aron a "minus" score for the spider.
Richards returned to the stand yesterday to defend his scoring. In fact, he said, when Aron said she saw a creature eating someone for dinner, "it didn't sound to me like it was just a spider." That merited the "unusual," he said.
The two psychologists also disagreed on the meaning of what Aron said she saw in the other inkblots: clouds after an explosion, an X-ray of body parts, a group of bones and a "war of space creatures" eating body parts.
Kelley told jurors that Aron's answers on the inkblots and another psychological test showed she had "an impaired ability to accurately perceive reality." Jurors then heard Richards say the two tests and "a large amount of data" showed that Aron was indeed thinking clearly when she tried to hire the hit man.
Testimony that ended with another pair of opposing experts began yesterday with Jim Newton, an aide to Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.). Newton was working for Aron, a Republican, in June as she prepared to switch political parties and announce her candidacy for the Montgomery County Council. Newton said Aron acted normally in the days leading to her arrest.
"Did you sense any concern that if she got her husband and Mr. Kahn killed, she could end up in the gas chamber?" defense attorney Barry H. Helfand asked Newton on cross-examination.
"No," her former aide said.
Aron, who stared ahead impassively in front of the jury, sobbed "almost uncontrollably" after the courtroom emptied yesterday, Helfand said. Aron, he added, "is very, very worried about what's going to happen."
If jurors find that Aron is not criminally responsible, she would be committed to a psychiatric hospital until doctors and a judge deem her safe to herself and others. If she is found guilty, she could be sentenced to 10 to 36 years in prison.
Helfand said yesterday that Aron "definitely" would appeal any conviction, and her attorneys would ask Circuit Court Judge Paul A. McGuckian to sentence her to probation.
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