Lawyers portray 2 different Arons

Ruthann Aron decided to have her husband and a lawyer killed because they were hurting her chances of getting elected to the Montgomery County Council, a prosecutor said yesterday during closing arguments.

In the spring of 1997, Mrs. Aron felt she’d suffered enough humiliating losses, Assistant State’s Attorney Deborah Grimes said.

She had lost the race for the U.S. Senate in 1994 to former Tennessee Sen. William Brock. She’d lost the slander suit she brought against him, and on appeal she failed to block lawyer Arthur Kahn’s damaging testimony.

Then, her husband, Dr. Barry Aron, who had always publicly stood beside her despite their tumultuous 32-year marriage, wanted a divorce – just before she was gearing up to campaign.

“This case is about Ruthann Aron seeking vengeance and revenge. You see, Ruthann Aron doesn’t like to lose,” Mrs. Grimes said. “She decided she was going to eliminate those people she believed were out to destroy her.”

This morning, 10 women and two men return to Montgomery County Circuit Court to decide if Mrs. Aron is guilty or not guilty.

“It’s not fun to find people guilty, or responsible,” argued Deputy State’s Attorney I. Matthew Campbell, but “your community is relying on you to find a truthful verdict.”

However, defense attorney Barry Helfand argued, “There is something good about this woman. . . . You are talking about a mentally ill person. . . . You can’t put a logical answer on anything.”

Although Mrs. Aron’s lawyers admit she tried to hire a hit man last June, they say she suffers from a serious mental illness and mild brain damage that make her not criminally responsible.

More than 150 spectators and reporters listened patiently in Montgomery County’s biggest courtroom in Rockville yesterday as prosecutors and defense attorneys commended or ridiculed witnesses, the psychiatrists and psychologists who had disagreed on the extent of Mrs. Aron’s mental disorders.

The prosecution and defense agree that the wealthy, 55-year-old lawyer and developer made a down payment of $500 to an undercover detective whom she believed to be the hit man.

The dispute is over whether Mrs. Aron is criminally responsible for her actions. Maryland law states that a defendant is not guilty if a preponderance of evidence shows mental illness prevented her from appreciating the criminality of her acts and from conforming to the law.

Mr. Campbell made numerous references to Mrs. Aron’s wealth.

He urged the jury to return the same verdict as they would if the defendant were more or less educated, more or less articulate, and had more or fewer resources.

“That’s what I call reverse discrimination,” defense attorney Judy Catterton argued, “that this case is about a woman who has means – she has – that you should somehow hold that against her.”

Mrs. Aron covered her face with her hand during much of the prosecution arguments. Once she bent over until almost hidden behind the counsel table. Another time, she held a whispered conversation with Mr. Helfand, her fingers resting on his bald head. Another time, attorney Erik Bolog rested his arm comfortingly on her shoulder. Spectators included Mr. Kahn; Mrs. Aron’s mother, Frieda Singer, who testified her daughter had been sexually and physically abused as a child; police detectives; and former fiancee Robert L. Beerman, who testified Mrs. Aron was almost incoherent May 30.

Mr. Helfand attacked Dr. Aron, saying he rejected and criticized Mrs. Aron for most of their marriage.

“Don’t tell me that he’s a nice guy,” Mr. Helfand said, almost shouting.

Mrs. Grimes emphasized that Mrs. Aron knew clearly what she was doing as she negotiated with former trash-recycling dealer William Mossburg Jr. to help her hire a hit man.

“She knew the police would never believe Billy Mossburg,” Mrs. Grimes said. “They would never believe Billy over Ruthann Aron [who was then a member of the county Planning Board].”

Mr. Campbell noted that without the tip from Mr. Mossburg, Mrs. Aron may well have had Dr. Aron and Mr. Kahn killed.

“She’s the beneficiary of [Mr. Mossburg's] good citizenship that day,” Mr. Campbell said. “She’s the lucky one.”

Otherwise she might be on trial for two murders, he said.

Mr. Helfand said, “We told you it was brain damage and they just go, `pooh-pooh!’“