Publisher agrees to pay kin of 3 slain

Murder manual used in '93 contract killings

May 22, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The publisher of a "how-to" murder manual used to carry out three Montgomery County contract killings in 1993 agreed yesterday to stop selling the book and to pay millions of dollars to the victims' families.

The settlement was reached a week before the suit filed by the families in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt was scheduled to go to trial.

The relatives of victims Mildred Horn and her 8-year-old son Trevor, and the family of nurse Janice Saunders, sued Paladin Press of Boulder, Colo., accusing the publisher of providing James Perry with a 130-page blueprint for murder.

Perry, later sentenced to death, bought the book, "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors," along with another book for $30 from Paladin's mail-order catalog.

Perry followed the book's advice closely when he killed the Wheaton mother, her quadriplegic son and his nurse in the Horns' home on March 3, 1993, police said.

Perry was hired to commit the murders by Trevor's father, Lawrence T. Horn, who had sought to inherit the $1.7 million trust fund that his son won in a medical malpractice suit.

Horn is serving life without parole for his role in the crime.

Howard L. Siegel, the Rockville attorney who represented Mildred Horn's sister, said he could not disclose the amount of the agreement, but that the publisher agreed to take the book off the market, and "to deliver the 700 unsold copies to my office within 30 days."

"It is a multimillion dollar settlement," he said.

The book has sold more than 13,000 copies since it was published in 1983.

Paladin also agreed to make donations to two charities chosen by the families.

"I don't think you can ever say you're happy with anything that comes out of the death of a loved one, but I think the families would join me in saying they're glad the third murderer has been brought to justice, and now there's some closure," Siegel said.

Paladin lawyer Lee Levine said the company's insurance company will pay the settlement.

He said that the publisher had a solid defense, but that concerns over school violence stemming from last month's murders in Littleton, Colo., and shootings this week in Conyers, Ga., would have made it more difficult to convince a jury.

"This case is about whether or not there is a clear and convincing case that this book in any sense known to our law caused these murders," Levine said.

The families of the murder victims filed suit four years ago.

U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams dismissed the case in 1996, ruling that speech advocating an illegal act is protected unless it incites others to act unlawfully.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled in November 1997 that free speech does not protect the publisher because the "Hit Man" book "constitutes criminal aiding and abetting."

Paladin appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in April 1998 refused to hear the suit.

Montgomery County prosecutors had cited the manual in their successful prosecution of Perry in 1995. Among the 27 suggestions he followed in the book were instructions on the need to file down the gun barrel to make the murder weapon untraceable, to use a silencer and to shoot victims in the eyes "to ensure quick and sure death."

The settlement could have far-reaching First Amendment implications.

The suit has been closely watched by free-speech experts who feared it would have a chilling effect on publishing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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