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If Books Could Kill

The kill is the easiest part of the job. People kill one another every day. It takes no great effort to pull a trigger or plunge a knife. It is being able to do so in a manner that will not link yourself or your employer to the crime that makes you a professional.--from Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors Paladin Press, the Boulder publisher of such fare as Ultimate Sniper and Guerilla's Arsenal: Advanced Techniques for Making Explosives and Time-Delay Bombs, released Hit Man back in 1983. Almost ten years later, an ex-con in Detroit named James Perry--"Dr. Perry, spiritual adviser and case buster," his card read--ordered a copy of Hit Man, along with How to Make a Disposable Silencer, Vol. 2, from the Paladin catalogue. The folks at Paladin remembered that particular order: Perry's personal check bounced.

That's what they told the Maryland cops who contacted the publisher in late 1993, asking if Perry--then the suspect in a triple homicide--had ordered any unusual books. Paladin offered up the two volumes Perry had purchased and in the process bought itself a wrongful-death suit set for trial this month.

Some people would say that the hit man is an emotionless, cold-blooded killing machine; that he has no fear and no belief in God. On the contrary, a hit man has a wide range of feelings. He may be excruciatingly tender towards his woman. He may be extremely compassionate towards the elderly or disabled. He may have a strong aversion to the useless killing of wildlife. He may even be religious in his own way.--from Hit Man

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Early on the morning of March 3, 1993, Vivian Rice stopped by her sister's home just a few houses away in Silver Spring, Maryland. She found the body of Mildred Horn blocking the door, hair curlers scattered on the floor; Millie had been shot between the eyes. Upstairs, nurse Janice Saunders was dead, too, also shot between the eyes. Her body was lying in the bedroom of Millie's eight-year-old son, Trevor.

The killer had used a different technique on Trevor, a paraplegic. He'd disconnected his respirator and then smothered the boy.

Although the killer didn't leave many clues at the scene--no hairs, no fibers--police immediately had a suspect: Lawrence Horn, Trevor's father and Millie's former husband. With Trevor gone, Larry stood to inherit close to $2 million in a trust fund set up for the boy in 1990 as settlement of a medical-malpractice case against the hospital where Trevor's breathing tube had been disconnected five years before, leaving him brain-injured and paralyzed.

In that same settlement, Millie got enough to buy the house in Silver Spring, close to her sister and to Trevor's school. And Larry, a recording engineer and former DJ who'd moved to California to try to revive his flagging music career, got a fast $125,000. But the money didn't go far for "L.T., the Man With a Plan," who'd once helped Berry Gordy create the Motown Sound.

Still, Larry Horn had an ironclad alibi: He'd been in California at the time of the murders. But authorities searching his apartment found a few suspicious items, including a map of Millie's neighborhood and phone records that tied him to one James Perry, an ex-con he'd met on a trip to Detroit in 1992.

In November 1993, the cops paid a call on Perry. In his apartment, they found several books on police investigations, as well as a copy of the Paladin Press catalogue. And they made their call to Boulder.

Books on subjects related to the professional hit man are hard to find. But there are a few publishers out there who have the backbone to provide those of us who take life seriously with the necessary educational materials.--from Hit Man

Among the hundreds of books offered by Paladin, the publishing company run by Peder Lund since 1974, when he bought out partner Bob Brown (who went on to start Soldier of Fortune), is the 130-page Hit Man. Written by the pseudonymous Rex Feral--"the last resource in these times when laws are so twisted that justice goes unserved," according to the bio--Hit Man is a how-to manual for setting up a hit-man business and then making the hits. The killer of Janice Saunders and Millie and Trevor Horn followed many of the book's pointers: 22 of them, according to prosecutor Robert Dean, who charted the similarities at Perry's 1995 murder trial. The killer had filed the serial numbers off his weapon, used a silencer and taken the weapon apart after the slayings--all steps advised in Hit Man. And he shot his victims right between the eyes, which increased the odds that they'd die immediately. But Perry didn't follow one piece of advice: When he checked into the Days Inn in Rockville, a motel that showed up on the map in Larry Horn's apartment, for a few scouting missions and then again right before the murders, he used his own name and ID.

It didn't take long for the jury to find Perry guilty and to sentence him to death.

The similarities between Perry's technique and Hit Man's advice weren't lost on the families of the victims, either. Even before Horn's April 1996 trial--he, too, was found guilty of conspiracy and three murders and sentenced to life in prison without parole--they'd filed suit against Paladin Press and against Lund, accusing him of aiding and abetting murder. "We will continue to litigate this case until we reach the last court and the last motion to reconsider is denied," vowed attorney Howard Siegel. "We will never stop until we run out of places to go."

On May 25, that place is a federal district courtroom in Maryland, where Judge Alexander Williams will preside over Rice v. Paladin Enterprises. Williams is very familiar with the case; he threw out the original suit in 1996. But even in that decision, he made his disgust with Hit Man very clear: "Paladin engaged in a marketing strategy intended to attract and assist criminals and would-be criminals who desire information and instructions on how to commit crimes. In publishing, marketing, advertising and distributing Hit Man and Silencers, Paladin intended and had knowledge that their publications would be used, upon receipt, by criminals and would-be criminals to plan and execute the crime of murder for hire...The court read Hit Man in its entirety. Its content is enough to engender nausea in many readers. This court, quite candidly, personally finds the book to be reprehensible and devoid of any significant redeeming social value. Nevertheless, however loathesome one characterizes the publication, Hit Man simply does not fall within the parameters of any of the recognized exemptions to the general First Amendment principles of freedom of speech."

The fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, overturning Williams's decision: "This book constitutes the archetypal example of speech which--because it methodically and comprehensively prepares and steels its audience to specific criminal conduct through exhaustively detailed instructions to the planning, commission and concealment of criminal conduct--finds no preserve in the First Amendment." After the Supreme Court refused to hear the publisher's appeal, the case was finally set for trial.

Heavy-hitters have lined up on both sides. Denver attorney Tom Kelley is defending Lund, and numerous media organizations have filed briefs in support of Paladin's constitutional rights; the family's attorneys have been joined by another First Amendment expert, law professor Rodney Smolla. And in the weeks before trial, more voices have added to the background noise--voices attributing the shootings at Columbine to cultural influences, voices pointing out that not much distance separates Columbine from Boulder. But Hit Man didn't pull the trigger.

Some people would argue that in taking the life of another after premeditation, you act as God--judging and issuing a death sentence. But it is the employer, the man who pays for the service, whatever his reason might be, who acts as judge. The hit man is merely the executioner, an enforcer who carries out the sentence.

Free speech could wind up paying the price.

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