Aron’s husband believes she is mentally ill

Dr. Barry Aron closed his testimony yesterday by saying he believes his wife is mentally ill because she otherwise would not have tried to hire a hit man to kill him.

Late in his eight hours on the witness stand in the murder-for-hire trial of his wife, Ruthann Aron, the 56-year-old urologist paused several seconds after being asked:

“Do you believe [your wife] is mentally ill?”

“The simple answer is yes,” Dr. Aron finally said, then paused again.

“The longer answer is: It’s hard to imagine that anybody who has been as nurturing, and as caring, and has done as many good things as Ruthann could do anything as horrible as what happened without being mentally ill, and the thought that she did it and is not mentally ill is really impossible for me to bear.”

Defense attorney Barry Helfand then asked if Dr. Aron still loved his wife, a wealthy developer in her own right, former political candidate and county Planning Board member.

“There’s a part of me that loves the one I married, that took care of me when I was sick, that gave us two wonderful children,” Dr. Aron replied, then added that as result of a roller-coaster marriage, “there’s a part of us that died.”

The prosecution is expected to conclude its case today in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Mrs. Aron’s attorneys are expected to call the first of a series of doctors to testify that she is mentally ill, thus not criminally responsible for the plot to have a hit man kill her husband and a Baltimore attorney she had crossed paths with in court.

Prosecutors yesterday began presenting evidence to corroborate claims that Mrs. Aron, 55, considered killing Dr. Aron and lawyer Arthur G. Kahn herself before she pursued hiring a hit man.

A Virginia gun collector, Elliott Burka, 57, testified Mrs. Aron came to his home May 23 to see his gun collection – but showed little interest in it – and then rode with him to Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly for target practice.

“She asked me about silencers,” Mr. Burka said. “I said, `What do you want a silencer for. They’re really not all that silent . . . they don’t go puff, puff.’ ”

Mr. Burka said he explained that “subsonic ammunition” must be used with silencers.

At the range, he said, Mrs. Aron disappeared for awhile and “when she came back, she said she had bought some subsonic ammunition.”

Asked if Mrs. Aron was a good shot, Mr. Burka replied, “Not very good. . . . She was shooting all over the target.”

Then, on the way home, “she asked me if I ever considered being a hit man. I said, `No. I’d make a lousy hit man. I have a conscience.’ ”

Mr. Burka said he cleaned Mrs. Aron’s .38-caliber revolver that day. He said the pistol later found in the Arons’ Potomac home did not appear to be the same one because the sight on the front of the barrel had been filed off.

Detective Roger Thomson said the serial number also had been filed off.

Police say that books found in Mrs. Aron’s possession after her arrest June 9 describe how to affix lawnmower mufflers over gun barrels to act as silencers, and how to obtain false identification.

Receipts from Blue Ridge Arsenal show Mrs. Aron bought a box of wad-cutters and a box of .38-caliber subsonic ammunition. Receipts from Home Depot show she bought two lawnmower mufflers, a lawnmower air filter, disposable face masks and ear protectors.

Also found in Mrs. Aron’s red Jeep Cherokee after her arrest was a Virginia auto tag, which police suggested might be used to leave the area. David Baker, an insurance agent from Woodbridge, identified the tag and two distinctive fastener screws as having been removed from his 1984 Oldsmobile, probably late in May.

The .38-caliber revolver was found after Dr. Aron’s attorney, Stephen Friedman, testified he ordered Dr. Aron to search the home carefully before Mrs. Aron returned to live there on home detention in early November. Police and prosecutors had said two of Mrs. Aron’s guns were missing.

“I was not going to be alone in that house with Mrs. Aron and two guns,” Mr. Friedman said.

RA separation agreement in June 1994 would have given his wife their $700,000 Potomac home; a condo in Palm Beach, Fla.; his share of his business partnership; any stocks, bonds, and mutual funds jointly held; and a life insurance policy for at least $1 million.

In February 1997, Dr. Aron said he had had enough and said he wanted a peaceful, civil divorce, but would postpone it until after she ran for election to the Montgomery County Council.

“She was uncharacteristically acquiescent to things . . . sanguine,” Dr. Aron said.

Mr. Helfand presented a note in Dr. Aron’s handwriting: “I am going to have an affair if I want to and if you don’t like it you can shoot yourself in the head.”

Dr. Aron said he could not remember writing the note, but when questioned by Deputy State’s Attorney I. Matthew Campbell, said it was possible he wrote it in the 1970s.

Dr. Aron looked shocked when Mr. Helfand handed him two notebooks that were not introduced in evidence. Dr. Aron said they contained “very intimate information” written during marriage counseling.