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Did Hired Killer Go by the Book?

Victim's family sues publisher of mail-order murder manual linked to Maryland triple slaying. Now this tale of true crime may yield a true landmark in 1st Amendment law.

May 07, 1997|DAVID G. SAVAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The triple murder that took place on this quiet, suburban cul-de-sac of Colonial brick homes makes for a gripping tale of money and evil.

An out-of-work Hollywood sound engineer named Lawrence Horn conspired to have his ex-wife and brain-damaged son killed so that he could inherit a $2-million trust fund intended for the boy. He might not have been caught except for a single pay phone call to his Hollywood apartment from an all-night Denny's restaurant near his ex-wife's home on the night she, their son and an overnight nurse were killed.

Checking motels near the Denny's, police found that James Perry, a Detroit "street preacher," had registered at one a few hours before the murders, paid with cash and checked out at dawn. FBI agents then traced 138 calls between pay phones near Perry's house in Detroit and Horn's Hollywood apartment.

Now this tale of true crime may also make for a true landmark in 1st Amendment law.

When police raided Perry's home, they learned he had purchased a 130-page mail-order guidebook for murder, "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors." Prosecutors showed Perry followed 22 of the book's recommendations in committing the 1993 murders.

A novel lawsuit, filed on behalf of the dead woman's sisters, poses a question that ultimately will have to be answered in the Supreme Court: Can a book publisher be held liable for aiding and abetting murder? Or does the 1st Amendment completely shield those who put out not only murder manuals but also books on how to make bombs, poison gas and deadly chemicals that can be used to kill hundreds of persons?

The "Hit Man" book, which has sold 13,000 copies since 1983, is published by Peder Lund, an ex-Green Beret who fought in Vietnam. His Paladin Press, a mail-order house based in Boulder, Colo., specializes in military and self-defense books and includes manuals on how to make bombs, silencers and sniper weapons.

The suit will be considered today by a U.S. appeals court in Richmond, Va. Lawyers for both sides say they will appeal to the high court if they lose.

Lund has a phalanx of powerful allies. Many of the nation's biggest media companies, which would never consider publishing Lund's manuals, are nevertheless rallying to his cause out of fear that an adverse court ruling would damage a free press.

The "Hit Man" manual, listed in the publisher's catalog at $10, does not hide its author's cold-blooded purpose. It is "an instruction book on murder," author "Rex Feral" (a pseudonym) announces in the first sentence.

"The professional hit man fills a need in society and is, at times, the only alternative for personal justice," Feral continues. The killer need feel "no twinge of guilt," since "the hit man is merely the executioner, an enforcer who carries out the sentence."

Paladin Press' catalog also includes "Homemade C-4: A Recipe for Survival," a book that achieved particular prominence last week when the jury in the Oklahoma City bombing trial was told that defendant Timothy J. McVeigh had ordered a copy. The catalog says C-4 is used "for blowing up bridges [and] shattering steel."

Police found a copy of Paladin's catalog at Perry's home. Contacting the publisher, they learned that Perry had bought two books--"Hit Man" and "Silencers"--and had sent Paladin a check. They never found his copy of "Hit Man."

Gun Touted in Book Is Cited

During Perry's trial, prosecutors showed he used the AR-7 rifle recommended by "Hit Man" in murdering Mildred Horn and her son's overnight nurse. The AR-7 "breaks down for storage [and] is easy to carry or conceal," the book says. He also drilled out the serial numbers as recommended.

"At least three shots should be fired to insure quick and sure death," the book advises. "Aim for the head, preferably the eye sockets. Close kills enable you to determine right away if you have successfully fulfilled your part of the contract."

Mildred Horn and Janice Saunders died from three shots fired at close range into their eyes. Young Trevor was suffocated in his bed.

Police traced money orders from Horn to Perry totaling about $5,000. They could not determine how much Horn had promised to pay Perry once he obtained the trust fund, which he never received.

Perry was convicted and sentenced to death. Horn was later convicted and given life in prison.

Outraged by what he had heard at the trial, Howard L. Siegel, a Rockville, Md., malpractice lawyer who won the settlement that established young Trevor's $2-million trust fund, conceived the lawsuit. Siegel says he was convinced a publisher should not be allowed to make money on murder manuals.

"I don't want to hear about the 1st Amendment. You don't have a right to help criminals commit crimes," Siegel said. "This is no different than writing down the combination of the safe and giving it to a guy so he can rob a bank. No one would say that was protected by the 1st Amendment."

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