State court affirms three death sentences in contract killings Further appeal may raise doubts about competence of defense attorney

December 17, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly identified the assistant public defender assigned to handle the Maryland Post Conviction Act appeal of James Perry, who was sentenced to death in 1995. No lawyer has been assigned to that case, which will be heard in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

The Sun regrets the error.

The state's highest court affirmed yesterday the three death sentences given last year to a storefront minister in the 1993 contract killings of an 8-year-old quadriplegic from Silver Spring, his mother and his nurse.

But the Court of Appeals strongly suggested that James Perry's convictions for first-degree murder might be reversed when the court is asked later in the appeals process to consider the competence of Perry's trial lawyer.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Perry, a minister from Detroit, was convicted in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Oct. 13, 1995, of three counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of Trevor Horn; his mother, Mildred Horn; and his nurse, Janice Saunders.

The bodies of the three were found March 3, 1993, in the boy's Silver Spring home. The boy's life-support system had been disconnected, and the mother and the nurse had been shot in the head.

Police charged the boy's father, Lawrence Horn, 56, of Hollywood, Calif., with hiring Perry to carry out the executions, saying the former Motown Record Co. producer was after a $1 million trust fund set up on the boy's behalf after an insurance settlement. Horn was convicted in April by a Frederick County jury and sentenced to three life terms without parole.

A Montgomery County jury convicted Perry after a monthlong trial, then heard three days of testimony before sentencing him Oct. 16, 1995.

Assistant public defender Nancy S. Forster, Perry's appellate lawyer, said yesterday that she would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider Perry's appeal.

If the high court refuses, she said, she will ask the state Court of Appeals to review the case a second time under the Maryland Post Conviction Act, which is generally the point at which defendants raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Susan Dudley, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery state's attorney, said she could not comment on the ruling yesterday because no one in the office had seen it.

She said Horn is also appealing his convictions.

The Court of Appeals said Montgomery County Circuit Judge D. Warren Donohue correctly overruled objections by Roger Galvin and Amy Brennan, Perry's lawyers, when they asked for a mistrial after jurors heard taped telephone conversations between the co-defendants from Horn's answering machine.

Galvin argued that the use of the tapes violated Maryland's wiretap statute, which generally requires both parties' consent for phone conversations to be taped.

The Court of Appeals said yesterday that Galvin's objection -- on the 11th day of testimony, after the tapes had been heard by the jury -- was raised too late to be considered.

"The trial court acted well within its discretion in refusing to interrupt the trial," Judge Lawrence Rodowsky wrote in a 6-1 ruling.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell dissented, saying Donohue at least should have held a hearing to decide whether the wiretap statute had been violated.

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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