WASHINGTON -- Rebuffing mystery writers and press groups, the Supreme Court refused yesterday to stop the trial of a civil lawsuit against the publisher of a "murder manual" that was used by the killer-for-hire of three victims in Silver Spring.
The killer, James Edward Perry, who has been convicted and sentenced to death, followed many of the tips on how to kill and get away with it in a book, "Hit Man," published by Paladin Enterprises Inc. of Boulder, Colo.
Perry's victims were Mildred Horn; her paralyzed 8-year-old son, Trevor; and Trevor's nurse, Janice Y. Saunders. Horn's ex-husband, Lawrence, was convicted of hiring Perry to carry out the killings so that Horn could collect a $2 million settlement that had been awarded to Trevor.
Horn, for his role, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Perry's conviction has been upheld by Maryland courts, and the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal a year ago.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in November that the lawsuit would not violate the publisher's First Amendment free press rights. That decision overturned a ruling by a federal judge who dismissed the lawsuit. The case is to be tried in federal court in Greenbelt.
Two of Mrs. Horn's sisters and Saunders' husband, along with the guardian of another Horn child, based their lawsuit on the claim that Paladin Enterprises "aided and abetted" Perry. Paladin has conceded that it knew that its book could be used by contract murderers and that Perry had made use of it in his crimes.
The publisher, the appeals court said in ordering the case to trial, had little purpose in putting out "Hit Man" except to "facilitate murder." The appeals court opinion quoted excerpts from the step-by-step instructions that the manual said a murderer ought to use.
The publisher contends that the manual was almost a comic book, with exaggerated prose, done for effect. It was in wide circulation for years before Perry used it, the publisher contends. Its unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court was supported by the Horror Writers Association and by a long list of news, publishing and broadcast organizations.
In other matters yesterday, the justices refused to consider constitutional challenges to anti-stalking laws in Washington and Virginia. They also declined to hear an appeal by a small church in New York City that wants to rent a public school building for weekly worship services.
In a constitutional victory for Maryland, the court left intact a federal appeals court decision that the state is immune to a lawsuit that demands that the state give up income taxes paid by a bankrupt Maryland firm, Creative Goldsmiths, just before it filed for bankruptcy. The tax funds would be used to pay off other creditors.
The appeals court ruled that Congress has no power to remove states' immunity under the 11th Amendment to private lawsuits based on federal bankruptcy law.
Pub Date: 4/21/98