Aron’s Husband Tells of a Marriage Crumbling Quietly

Two Sundays ago, Ruthann and Barry Aron sat down for dinner at their home in Potomac. He had turkey burgers. She had lobster. They spoke of her campaign for Montgomery County Council and of their daughter’s upcoming anniversary, and then they went to bed. As they’ve done for years, they slept in separate bedrooms.

Nothing unusual, Barry Aron remembered.

The next day, he said, a police detective told him that his wife of 30 years, a Montgomery County Planning Board member and former candidate for U.S. Senate, had tried to pay a hit man $20,000 to kill him and another man. “This is your worst nightmare come true,” Aron said yesterday to a small group of reporters at his medical office in Rockville. Eight days after his wife was arrested, he spoke publicly for the first time about his marriage and about the charges against his wife that shocked Maryland’s political circles. He is worried that there may be someone out there with a contract on his life. He is worried that his wife may be set free, and he has supported her defense attorney’s request that she be placed under psychiatric care.

The evidence compiled against his wife, he said, is “very frightening,” the case against her, “very compelling.” In the last week, he said, he has coped by delving into his work.

He saw dozens of patients at his practice and he performed surgery at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, where he is a urologist. In the intensive care unit, he said, each member of the staff lined up to give him a hug. Aron, 56, described a marital relationship that had started to crumble in recent years. Since 1993, he said, he and his wife have been “estranged,” living under the same roof but in separate bedrooms. “There was a part of our relationship that was ongoing, fully supportive and strongly committed,” he said. “And there was a part of it that died.” On the morning of June 9, the day he would learn of the charges, Aron got up and left for work without speaking to his wife. She was still asleep. He had a normal Monday at Shady Grove Adventist. As he was getting ready to leave for home, the doctor was taken aback to see a detective in his office. As he often does with his patients, he tried a little humor to break the ice. “You have a subpoena?” he remembers asking the detective. “This is serious,” the detective replied. Then the investigator laid out a chilling series of charges.

Aron’s wife allegedly wanted a hit man to kill him and a Baltimore lawyer who had once represented two men suing her. That same morning, Ruthann Aron allegedly had made a $500 down payment after telling the hit man — actually an undercover police officer — to kill her husband first.

Late last year, the Arons began talking about getting a divorce. Barry Aron said he had diagnosed a friend’s terminal illness, and that put his life into sharper focus. “It affected me profoundly because I came to the conclusion that I needed a life,” he said. The Arons decided, however, to wait until the 1998 elections before filing for divorce so it wouldn’t affect Ruthann Aron’s campaign. “My agenda was to show how supportive I was for her,” he said. Barry Aron said he was always supportive of his wife’s ambitions and interests. He even encouraged her enthusiasm for collecting guns, sometimes giving her firearms as presents. He saw nothing wrong with her ownership of an assault rifle — a weapon highlighted by prosecutors as part of their argument for keeping her jailed. Or with her habit of wearing a holstered gun around the house, which she did because she would get frightened when she was alone in the big, empty house, with no company but their 17-year-old “schnoodle,” a schnauzer-poodle mix. That gun, a .38 special, is among two firearms from her collection that are still missing. Aron denied allegations that his wife was the victim of spousal abuse.

Ruthann Aron’s attorney, Barry Helfand, has noted that his client told jail officials she was the victim of domestic violence, but Helfand declined to elaborate. Barry Aron said he could recall only one moment in which physical force came between them. More than a year ago, he said, the couple had an argument about finances, and she picked up his wallet and began ripping up his money. “I grabbed the wallet and pushed her, and she fell back on the carpet,” he said. He said there was no disagreement over Ruthann Aron’s possible pursuit of a new trial in her defamation suit against William E. Brock III, who defeated her in the 1994 Republican primary for the Senate nomination. Brock lost the general election to Paul S. Sarbanes. “This is not spousal abuse. This is not infidelity. This is none of those things,” Barry Aron said. Aron said he wants to sell the couple’s Potomac home, but added that the Arons had been considering that option for a while. The house had become too big since their son and daughter moved out. He said he never will live again with Ruthann Aron, now held without bond at the county jail. “I’m starting the rest of my life,” he said.