No Verdict for Second Day in Aron Trial
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 1998; Page D01
A Montgomery County jury failed for a second day yesterday to reach a verdict in the murder-for-hire trial of politician Ruthann Aron, raising the possibility that the panel is deadlocked.
After deliberating for five hours yesterday -- and 13 hours total -- jurors sent out three notes to Circuit Court Judge Paul A. McGuckian about 4 p.m. McGuckian said that the jurors wanted them kept private but that the messages -- one filled almost an entire page of notebook paper -- prompted him to read the panel special instructions that spell out the "jury's duty to deliberate."
Asked after the jury had left the courtroom whether those instructions are usually read when there's a hung jury, McGuckian answered, "That's a reasonable surmise."
Prosecutors left the courtroom grim-faced and declined to comment on what a hung jury would mean for their case. However, two of Aron's attorneys were smiling over the possibility of a mistrial and said they expect the case would be retried.
"If the jury can't get together, I'd assume this [trial] will be over, and we'll be back to do it again," said defense attorney Barry H. Helfand. There is "no chance," he said, that Aron would then seek a plea bargain.
The jury will return at 9 a.m. today to try to decide whether Aron should be held criminally responsible for trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband, urologist Barry Aron, and Arthur G. Kahn, a Baltimore lawyer whom Aron allegedly blamed for her failed 1994 bid for the U.S. Senate.
During the four-week trial, jurors heard from 47 witnesses, many of them medical experts who gave complex and conflicting views of the millionaire Potomac developer's mental condition.
Jurors appeared tired yesterday, but most were smiling as they came out of the deliberation room, from which laughter had emanated at least twice during the afternoon.
"How're you doing?" McGuckian asked the 10 women and two men.
He was answered by a mixture of heavy sighs and laughs.
"I don't want to know, right?" the judge said.
"That's right," a female juror answered.
The instructions read by McGuckian told jurors to "change your opinion if convinced you are wrong, but do not surrender your honest belief" to reach a unanimous verdict. Several jurors chuckled at the instructions before McGuckian told them to go home, sleep on it and return this morning to resume deliberations.
Speaking at an impromptu news conference before 13 photographers and 20 reporters, Helfand said he wasn't surprised that questions about a defendant's mental health would "polarize" a jury.
Asked whether a hung jury would be a victory for the defense, Helfand said, "Victory is having this woman found not criminally responsible. I don't want to claim victory just for this." However, he added, "maybe we touched one soul."
Defense attorneys asked McGuckian at the start of yesterday's deliberations to tell the jury that any lone holdouts who might feel "browbeaten" by the majority should come to him. The judge denied the motion.
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