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Politician Pleads in Hit Man Case

July 31, 1998

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ Ruthann Aron, the U.S. Senate candidate whose trial on charges of hiring a hit man to kill her husband ended with a hung jury, has thrown prosecutors another curve.

On Thursday, the day closing arguments were scheduled in her second trial, Ms. Aron surprised a number of people by withdrawing innocent pleas and pleading no contest.

Faced with a potential conviction _ and unwilling to apologize _ Ms. Aron sidestepped the process, said her husband’s lawyer, Stephen Friedman.

``This is a way of getting out of the criminal case without her saying, `Your honor, I did it,‴ Friedman said. ``There never has been an `I’m sorry I did this’ to her husband ... to her children. It is totally consistent with her total lack of remorse.″

Ms. Aron assured Judge Vincent Ferretti Jr. that she was changing her plea because she wanted to, not because she cut a deal for a guaranteed sentence.

``I know what I’m doing,″ she said.

The maximum sentence is life in prison. Under state sentencing guidelines, Ms. Aron could receive eight to 18 years, and prosecutors have said they will ask for a sentence close to the maximum. No sentencing date was set.

Ms. Aron, 55, who ran unsuccessfully in Maryland’s Republican Senate primary in 1994, was tape-recorded negotiating with a policeman posing as a hit man for the deaths of Dr. Barry Aron, who wanted to end their 32-year marriage, and attorney Arthur Kahn, a longtime foe.

She was arrested June 9, 1997, hours after she put on a trench coat and wig and dropped off a $500 down payment.

Ms. Aron’s lawyers said she suffers from several mental illnesses, mild brain damage and post traumatic stress from physical and sexual abuse during her childhood.

Prosecutors said Ms. Aron was an intelligent, ambitious businesswoman and politician who felt both men had become political liabilities in her bid for a Montgomery County Council seat.

Her first trial ended in March with a jury hung 11-1 in favor of her conviction.

Defense attorney Charles Cockerill said Ms. Aron had been thinking for a long time about changing her plea from innocent and ``not criminally responsible″ _ Maryland’s equivalent of an insanity plea _ and decided to do it when faced with another round of jury deliberations.

``The idea of going through this again was terrifying to her,″ he said.

Prosecutors strongly objected to the judge accepting the plea. The state wanted the jury to decide the case and argued the public deserved at least an admission of guilt from Ms. Aron.

Still, prosecutor Matthew Campbell considered it a victory.

``We consider this a raising of the white flag of surrender,″ he said.

The court battles are hardly over. Aron has filed a $7.5 million civil suit against her, alleging mental anguish. She has a $25 million suit pending against him.

And prosecutors said they were deciding whether to charge Ms. Aron for allegedly trying to kill her husband by lacing his chili with a lethal dose of prescription drugs in April 1997.

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