Father arrested in 3 murders

July 21, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

ROCKVILLE -- Last spring's triple slaying in Silver Spring shocked investigators and neighbors, who wondered who could kill 8-year-old Trevor Horn by disconnecting the quadriplegic life-support system, and shoot the boy's mother and nurse in the head.

Yesterday, police offered an even more shocking tale, charging the boy's father with contracting out the grisly murders to a storefront minister from Detroit.

The motive, police said: Trevor's estate, worth at least $1 million -- money he received as part of a medical malpractice suit.

At a news conference, police said the father, Lawrence Horn, 54, a former Motown Records producer who lives in Hollywood, Calif., and his alleged accomplice, James Perry, 45, of Detroit, were each indicted Tuesday on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy.

Federal agents in Hollywood and Detroit arrested the two suspects Tuesday afternoon, ending what Montgomery County police called "the most exhaustive and labor-intensive" investigation in the department's history.

"This is not an ordinary murder case," said Andrew L. Sonner, the Montgomery County state's attorney. "This was planned long in advance and arranged with a great deal of preparation and evil."

Mr. Sonner said he has never seen such a case in 28 years as a prosecutor. "There have been a lot of amateurish attempts, but nothing that rises to this level."

The bodies of Trevor Horn, Mildred Horn, 43, and the boy's nurse, Janice Saunders, 38, were discovered by a family member March 3, 1993, in their home in the Layhill community of Silver Spring.

Trevor had been born 12 weeks premature and was permanently attached to a respirator to breathe. When he was 11 months old, he suffered further injuries in a Washington hospital, losing the use of his arms and legs, according to court records. He also could not talk.

The Horns, who divorced in 1987, sued Children's Hospital National Medical Center and settled out of court four years ago. Court documents say Trevor was to receive a $1.1 million payment in 2003, when he turned 18, and was getting more than $5,000 a month to help pay for medical expenses. His estate is worth between $1.1 million and $2.3 million, the records say.

Authorities alleged yesterday that Mr. Horn hired the hit man to kill Trevor and his mother to collect the settlement payment, which would automatically go to the father upon their deaths.

Ms. Horn's sisters, Vivian Rice and Marilyn Farmer, went to court last year to block Mr. Horn from getting any of Trevor's money. Months before the father was criminally charged, they argued that he was "a participant in the intentional and felonious murder of his son, and thereby not entitled to share in his estate," said Glenn M. Cooper, a lawyer who represents the sisters.

Mr. Cooper said that as recently as two weeks ago, he took two days of depositions for the pending civil case from Mr. Horn in the Montgomery County Circuit Court building. "We're still not finished," he said.

Mr. Horn, who is now self-employed, has denied his involvement in the slayings since March 1993, when he was named a suspect in court records filed by Los Angeles police officers who searched his apartment, seizing files, computer disks and video tapes.

"The arrest and indictment have been very shocking," said Stanley J. Reed, a Bethesda lawyer who represents Mr. Horn in his civil cases. He said Mr. Horn, who is in custody in Los Angeles, has not yet hired a lawyer to represent him on the criminal charges.

"I spoke to Mr. Horn at some length last evening," Mr. Reed said yesterday. "He continues to maintain his innocence and continues to vehemently deny any involvement in these murders."

Court hearings have been scheduled for today in Los Angeles and Detroit, where Mr. Horn and Mr. Perry will indicate whether they will voluntarily return to Maryland to face the charges or will fight extradition.

Authorities had few details on Mr. Perry, whom they described as a storefront minister on Detroit's east side. He is in custody in Detroit.

At the start, it appeared that the trio had been killed during a break-in. Ms. Horn's 1991 Chevrolet Astro van was missing. And her house had been ransacked.

But authorities said yesterday that they focused on Mr. Horn within days, after they learned about the Trevor's trust fund and the couple's stormy marriage.

Mr. Sonner, the Montgomery County state's attorney, would not disclose how Mr. Horn met Mr. Perry, or detail how investigators connected the two. He said postal investigators traced letters involving both suspects, whom they had under visual surveillance and telephone wiretaps for months.

Clarence Edwards, the Montgomery County police chief, called the investigation a "complex paper case" in which detectives logged more than 3,000 hours.

They also said a valuable clue was AT&T telephone records, which showed connections "among various people" integral to the case. They would not be more specific.

Authorities said Mr. Horn paid Mr. Perry money to carry out the contract, but he would only say the price was in the thousands of dollars. "We will be able to prove how the money exchanged hands at trial," Mr. Sonner said.

Prosecutors said a special grand jury was convened in the days following the slayings, and heard from 15 witnesses. They said Mr. Horn had been a suspect from the start, based on interviews with family members and the family's financial situation.

Mr. Sonner also said detectives recovered the murder weapon, believed to be a .22-caliber handgun, which had been broken up and left in pieces scattered in the yard near Ms. Horn's house.

The prosecutor said the case qualifies for the death penalty, but his office has not decided whether to seek that sentence.

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