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.
--Excerpt from Hit Man
When James Perry crept into a darkened house in Silver Spring, Maryland, pulled out a silencer-equipped AR-7 rifle, assassinated two women and suffocated a physically and mentally handicapped eight-year-old boy, he was following a script of sorts. Everything had been laid out for him, down to the smallest detail. He didn't leave the scene until he'd carefully run a rat-tail file down the bore of his rifle to foil police ballistics experts and ransacked the house to make it appear as if the murders were part of a robbery.
Perry was so careful in covering his tracks that detectives didn't find a single piece of evidence, not a hair or a fiber, linking him to the crime scene. It was a textbook case of murder--in every sense of the word.
Colorado Rockies vs. San Francisco Giants
TicketsMon., Sep. 4, 1:10pm
Colorado Rockies vs. San Diego Padres
TicketsFri., Sep. 15, 6:40pm
Colorado Rockies vs. Miami Marlins
TicketsMon., Sep. 25, 6:40pm
Colorado Rockies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
TicketsFri., Sep. 29, 6:10pm
Denver Outlaws / Major League Lacrosse All Star Game
TicketsSat., Dec. 29, 6:00pm
That's because Perry's crime was lifted chapter and verse from a slim paperback published by Boulder's Paladin Press and purportedly written by a professional killer. The book, Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, explains in detail how to find potential customers, what weapons to use in carrying out a "hit," how to best dispose of a body and how to avoid being caught.
But Perry was caught, as was the man who allegedly employed him, former Motown recording engineer Lawrence Horn. And the fact that prosecutors found 22 similarities between the advice given in Hit Man and the techniques Perry employed in the March 1993 slaying of Horn's ex-wife, Mildred "Millie" Horn, their son, Trevor, and Trevor's night nurse, Janice Saunders, was not lost on the victims' families. Late this past December, after Perry was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder (Horn goes to trial on similar charges next month), the families filed suit in federal court accusing Paladin Press and its owner, Peder Lund, of aiding and abetting murder. (The author of Hit Man, who uses a nom de plume, has not yet been identified and is not named in the federal suit; that, however, is expected to change.)
The suit, the first of its kind, is expected to test the boundaries of the First Amendment and could bankrupt the Colorado publishing company. Already, champions of free speech across the country are predicting dire consequences should the suit be successful.
"One of the things that disturbs me," says Julie Lucas, executive director of the First Amendment Congress, a Denver-based coalition formed to educate the public about free speech issues, "is the fact that they are blaming this book for the actions of a criminal. That brings up a whole host of disturbing issues. I think they're trying to shift the blame from the actions of the criminal to the book being the criminal itself. That's a disturbing precedent to set."
Should Paladin lose the case, says attorney Bruce Sanford of the Washington, D.C., law firm of Baker and Hostetler, it would "pose an enormous danger to all sorts of works." Included on that list, he says, are books by Tom Clancy and movies by Oliver Stone. Sanford claims it could even affect the way reporters cover crime stories. "The point is," he says, "the information didn't kill. Information is not inherently evil or bad."
But attorneys for the victims' families say the First Amendment was never intended to protect an entrepreneur's guide to murder and mayhem. "The point is that you're responsible for what is likely to happen when you give somebody a plan to commit murder," says plaintiffs' attorney Howard Siegel of Rockville, Maryland. "And somebody used this book to do exactly that."
"Hit Man is a solicitation for criminal behavior, and it provides instructions for criminal behavior," agrees Siegel's Maryland co-counsel John Marshall. "And it's our belief that the First Amendment does not and should not protect that kind of speech."
The case, the plaintiffs' attorneys contend, will hinge on intent--and they maintain that Paladin and Lund "specifically and maliciously intended, and had actual knowledge that [the books] would be used by murderers."
Sanford argues that the book is clearly fictional, "almost a fantasy. It's hard to take it seriously," he says.
To that, Marshall has a ready reply: "Mr. Perry did not think it was a joke."
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.
--Excerpt from Hit Man
The name Lawrence T. Horn once meant something in Detroit: music, money and success. Born to a middle-class family in the Motor City, he really hit his stride after his discharge from the Navy, where he'd served as a shipboard disc jockey known as "L.T., the Man With the Plan." Once back in Detroit, Lawrence Horn hooked up with Berry Gordy, and together they created "the Motown Sound." A gifted recording engineer, Horn mixed recordings for the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Temptations, among others. Motown's success, and his own, earned Horn a Porsche, nice clothes and ready cash.
But according to testimony that would later come out at trial, his personal life was not nearly as smooth as his professional one. His short-lived first marriage to a Motown receptionist ended in divorce in 1966. He married a second time in 1973, this time to American Airlines flight attendant Millie Maree. The couple bought a home in California (Motown had relocated to Los Angeles from Detroit), and their first child, Tiffani, was born in 1974.
By the end of the decade, Horn's second marriage was failing. Millie moved with their daughter to the Washington, D.C., area, leaving Lawrence on the West Coast. Despite the physical and emotional gulf that lay between them, Millie and Lawrence seemed unable to let go completely--Millie became pregnant, and on August 14, 1984, after going into labor eleven weeks early, she gave birth to twins. She named the infants Trevor and Tamielle.
Tiffani Horn would testify years later that the babies' birth signaled the end of her parents' marriage, though Lawrence and Millie didn't divorce until 1987.
Like many premature infants, the twins' health was fragile. Tamielle was not released from the hospital until a month after her birth. Her brother was even more ill--he had underdeveloped lungs and suffered from respiratory problems. Trevor was forced to remain in the hospital for three months, and recurring bouts of illness often landed him back there during the year that followed.
Trevor was receiving treatment at Children's Hospital National Medical Center in Washington in September 1985, when his respirator tube was accidently dislodged, cutting off his supply of oxygen for as long as an hour. The accident left him with severe brain damage. He was paralyzed, retarded, could not talk, could barely see, and required round-the-clock care. When Trevor finally left the hospital, family members said, Millie believed she was bringing her son home to die.
(Trevor would surprise his family and his doctors by not only surviving but improving. By the time of his death he could breathe on his own, though he received an enriched supply of oxygen through a tube fastened near his tracheotomy. He also could say a few words and was going to school.)
The Horns, devastated by their son's problems, filed a medical malpractice suit against Children's Hospital. They settled out of court in 1990 for an estimated $2 million. Trevor was to receive $1.1 million in the year 2003 (when he would turn eighteen), as well as $5,000 a month to help pay medical expenses. The money was placed in a trust in Trevor's name. Under Maryland law, if Trevor died and was survived by only one parent, the survivor stood to inherit the entire amount, less estate taxes.
In addition to Trevor's trust, Millie Horn received a reported quarter-million-dollar settlement for herself. Soon afterward, she bought a $350,000 home for herself and the children in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, a few houses away from her sister, Vivian Rice.
Lawrence Horn was in dire need of the $125,000 he got in the settlement. He'd been laid off from Motown and was trying to eke out a living as a consultant and freelance music engineer. And he was getting further and further behind in his $650-per-month child-support payments.
By 1992, Lawrence had used up all the money from the settlement and was forced to go to his mother, Pauline, for cash. Pauline Horn testified at Perry's trial that her son borrowed a total of $65,000 in 1992 and 1993 to help pay legal bills he'd accrued in a custody fight with Millie. By the time of the murders, prosecutors say, Lawrence was $16,000 in arrears on his child-support payments.
It was during that low point, in the spring or summer of 1992, that Lawrence traveled back to Detroit, site of his old glory days. He touched base with old friends and became reacquainted with relatives. Horn's first cousin, Thomas Turner, later testified that he hadn't seen Lawrence for twenty years when he happened to stop by Turner's Detroit home.
Over "a couple beers," Turner testified, Lawrence expressed frustration with his former wife and complained about the custody battle. Turner testified that he then introduced Lawrence to his old pal, James Perry, a man Turner had met while in prison on an armed-robbery charge.
The business card belonging to "Dr. J. Perry" describes the 47-year-old Detroit grandfather as a "spiritual adviser and case buster." He is known in other circles as a con man and two-time convict, with convictions for armed robbery and assault.
Exactly how Perry made a living in his post-prison years is a source of debate. His attorney said at trial that "people all over the country" sent Perry money for his ministry. Investigators, however, are skeptical of those claims. FBI agents and Michigan state troopers who tailed Perry before his arrest testified at trial that they never saw the self-proclaimed minister go near a church.
At any rate, when Perry met Horn, both men were in the same boat: they were hard up for money. Maryland investigators say that L.T., "the Man With the Plan," came up with an idea that could lift both men out of the poverty track. Horn would be a rich man if his wife and son were dead. Perhaps Perry could help him with that.
Months before he and Horn were introduced, Perry had ordered and received two books from Paladin Press, Hit Man and How to Make a Disposable Silencer, Vol. 2. He paid for the manuals with a personal check. It bounced.
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. Paladin Press advertises in almost every issue of Soldier of Fortune, and other publishers also offer relevant reading material, available by mail order.
--Excerpt from Hit Man
Panther Publications was founded in the early 1960s by Robert K. Brown, a former Green Beret. Brown believed--and time would prove him right--that there were plenty of armchair soldiers in the world who represented a ready market for military manuals and action/adventure books.
In 1970 Brown took on as his partner Peder Lund, another Special Forces veteran and self-proclaimed "adventurer." The men tossed aside the name Panther (to avoid inadvertent identification with the Black Panther movement, according to a Paladin promotional insert) and rechristened their venture "Paladin Press" after the twelve knights who served Charlemagne.
The pair specialized in reprinting military manuals and publishing books that, as Brown brags in a three-page biography distributed by Soldier of Fortune, "outraged liberals." But by 1974, political provocation was not enough to satisfy Brown's appetite for risk-taking. He wanted to be where the action was, and he dreamed of starting a magazine featuring reports on mercenaries and revolutions--what he called "hairy-chested journalism."
Lund wasn't interested, and he bought out his partner's share in Paladin. The following year, Brown took the money and established Soldier of Fortune magazine, which as recently as 1992 claimed a circulation of 90,000.
Paladin's success was equally impressive. According to a self-congratulatory article in the Twentieth Anniversary catalogue Paladin published in 1990, "From the late 1970s on, Paladin's titles and sales doubled almost yearly, and today the company has established itself as the unquestioned leader in the 'action' book market, with a list of more than 350 titles, generating sales of hundreds of thousands of books and making Paladin a multi-million dollar enterprise."
Lund accomplished that by expanding beyond military subjects to "topics he felt were right for the times." And what times they proved to be.
For a small price (most of the books in Paladin's catalogue range from $10 to $30), readers can own a copy of such offerings as The Poor Man's Sniper Rifle; 21 Techniques of Silent Killing; Be Your Own Undertaker: How to Dispose of a Dead Body; 101 Sucker Punches; Head Butts, Eye Gouging and Hair Pulling: A Scientific Approach to Dirty Fighting; The Ancient Art of Strangulation; Fun, Games and Big Bangs: The Home and Recreational Use of High Explosives; and Kill Without Joy: The Complete How-to-Kill Book.
Paladin's do-it-yourself manuals teach readers how to convert semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic, how to pick locks and circumvent security alarms, how to destroy bridges, how to convert model rockets into explosive missiles, and how and where to sell bodily organs to the highest bidder. Customers can learn how to make grenade launchers, bazookas, flamethrowers, silencers, claymore mines, 9mm submachine guns, nitroglycerin and plastic explosives.
Lund declined to speak with Westword about either the lawsuit or his company's publications. But he has conceded in the past--without apology--that Paladin peddles "forbidden fruit."
"Many of the books dealt with--but did not advocate using--potentially illegal activities or devices," reads the Twentieth Anniversary catalogue. "These generated a lot of controversy--and sales. Even die-hard advocates of free speech found themselves second-guessing their opposition to censorship when it applied to books like the How to Kill series by John Minnery or the bomb books by various authors." (At least two Paladin titles, Kill Without Joy and How to Kill, have been banned in Canada.)
Paladin first published Hit Man in 1983 and has since sold about 15,000 copies, says Tom Kelley, a Denver First Amendment lawyer who is representing Paladin in the Horn suit. The book was written under the pseudonym Rex Feral, which, loosely translated, means "king of the animals" or "king of the wild."
According to the author's biography on the book jacket, "Feral is a hit man. Some consider him a criminal. Others think him a hero. In truth, he is a lethal weapon aimed at the enemy of the one who pays him. He is the last resource in these times when laws are so twisted that justice goes unserved. He is a man who controls his destiny through his private code of ethics, who feels no twinge of guilt at doing his job. He is a professional killer."
In truth, all of that is hogwash.
Rex Feral is actually a woman, contends Kelley. And she's not a contract killer. Nor, says Kelley, whose other clients include the Denver Post, is the book intended to be taken seriously. "Most people might call this an outlaw fantasy," he says.
But the book doesn't exactly go out of its way to drive home that distinction. "A woman recently asked how I could, in good conscience, write an instruction book on murder," "Feral" muses in the preface. "'How can you live with yourself if someone uses what you write to go out and take a human life?' she whined.
"I am afraid she was quite offended by my answer," the author continues. "It is my opinion that the professional hit man fills a need in society and is, at times, the only alternative for 'personal' justice. Moreover, if my advice and the proven methods in this book are followed, certainly no one will ever know."
In the 130 pages that follow, Feral provides a step-by-step guide to setting up a murder-for-hire business, covering everything from mental and physical preparation to laundering the illegally gotten gains.
A basic equipment checklist, Feral writes, should include an AR-7 rifle, hollow-point bullets, a double-edged knife, lock picks (for which Feral provides templates) and a disposable silencer (the manufacture of which is detailed in seven pages of photographs).
Feral explains how to drill out the serial number on the AR-7, making it all but impossible to trace ownership of the weapon. Hollow-point bullets are recommended "because they deform on impact, making them nontraceable. As an added precaution," Feral writes, "you can fill the hollows with liquid poison to insure success of your operation."
In this line of work, neatness counts. So when using a small-caliber weapon such as a .22, Feral advises, "it is best to shoot from a distance of three to six feet. You will not want to be at point-blank range to avoid having the victim's blood splatter you or your clothing. At least three shots should be fired to ensure quick and sure death."
If, however, a hit-man must shoot from a distance, "aim for the head--preferably the eye sockets."
Feral also carefully explains what to do once the hit has been completed. Gather up all the empty cartridges that were ejected when firing the gun, Feral writes. And, while still at the scene, take the time to run a rat-tail file down the rifle bore to alter the trademark impression the gun barrel leaves on bullets, thus making it more difficult for criminologists to ascertain whether or not the gun was the murder weapon.
When leaving the scene, Feral advises, "Toss your gun parts out at intervals or in various locations about town. Drop them into lakes or waterways. Bury or sink the gun barrel or silencer in different spots."
With the disposal of each piece of evidence, the fear of being caught eases, Feral writes. "Your biggest problem now is learning to deal with your ego."
Feral's biggest problem, however, will be remaining anonymous. As of last week, plaintiffs' attorneys had not yet identified the author, but Marshall says one of the first pieces of information he plans to seek from Lund in a deposition is Feral's real name. If and when the plaintiffs learn Feral's true identity, he says, she will be named as a defendant.
You made it! Your first job was a piece of cake! Taking all that money for the job was almost like robbery. Yet here you are, finally a real hit man with real hard cash in your pockets and that first notch on your pistol.
--Excerpt from Hit Man
The bodies of Millie Horn, her son, Trevor, and Janice Saunders were discovered early on the morning of March 3, 1993, by Millie's sister, Vivian Rice.
Millie's body was blocking the front door. She lay on the floor in front of the stairs, her hair curlers scattered around her fallen body. It appeared to police that she'd been killed after being roused from sleep. She'd been shot in the eyes.
Investigators found Trevor's night nurse, the 38-year-old Saunders, on the floor in Trevor's bedroom. Detectives theorize that Saunders was shot as she sat knitting and rocking in the chair beside the boy's bed. Her knitting needles were still in her hand. She, too, had been shot in the eye. (Saunders, the mother of a five-year-old son, had not been scheduled to work that night; she was filling in for another nurse who was unable to work the shift.)
Officers found Trevor in his bed, surrounded by stuffed animals. The cause of death was not immediately apparent, but the high, piercing whine of his respirator alarm filled the house, accompanied by the loud hum of his dehumidifier. Police thought at first that Trevor had died when his respirator was disconnected. They soon learned that that was not the case.
"You'd think that disconnecting him from the machine would kill him, [but] it didn't," says detective Craig Wittenberg of the Montgomery County Police Department. "No doubt who did it had inside information. The [killer] had to know that merely disconnecting it was not going to kill him. He actually had to smother the child."
Investigators believe that Saunders was killed first, then the boy. Something--police think it may have been the sound of the respirator's alarm--alerted Millie to a problem, and she was shot as she went downstairs to investigate. She probably never heard the gunshots that killed Trevor's nurse; detectives believe the killer used a silencer. "Although we don't know that he used one for sure," says Maryland deputy state's attorney Robert Dean, "we think he did, because we found large pieces, stray pieces of bullets, and the wound patterns were consistent with a silencer."
The remainder of the scene was a puzzle. The killer "made a futile attempt at some ransacking," Wittenberg says, but police never took seriously the prospect that the home had been burglarized. "[Millie Horn] had furs, jewelry, TVs, VCRs, common things that would be stolen, but nothing was missing," says Wittenberg. "Things were just dumped over and tossed. For one thing, the family room had [sofa] cushions thrown on the floor. What would a burglar do that for? Was he looking for popcorn seeds, maybe pennies between the cushions? Some of it was almost to the point of being ridiculous."
The only things that had been taken were some of Millie Horn's credit cards and the family van. Wittenberg says he believes that the killer took the vehicle "merely to get away and drive back close to where he'd parked his rental vehicle." The credit cards were found later that same day, scattered along the roadside leading away from the Horn home.
Dean says the search also turned up a file with flecks of gunpowder on it. Investigators think it was used to alter the barrel of a gun.
Two weeks after the murders, a canine officer and his dog discovered the trigger to an AR-7 rifle not far from where Millie Horn's credit cards had been found. The serial numbers had been completely drilled through and were impossible to read.
"At that time," Wittenberg says, "the trigger did not mean that much to us." But it would become a crucial piece of evidence months later, after detectives bought a copy of Hit Man.
Wittenberg and his partner James Leasure (now retired) suspected soon after they'd been assigned to the case that Lawrence Horn was somehow involved. Horn, however, had an ironclad alibi. When the murders were being carried out, Horn was at his home in California. And he had a videotape to prove it: While taping pictures of himself and his girlfriend at their apartment that night, Horn had allowed the camera to linger on the television set, which just happened to show the date and time of the broadcast.
Murder for hire then seemed a reasonable assumption to the detectives. A search of Horn's California apartment--conducted ten days after the slayings by Los Angeles police officers at the request of Maryland investigators--turned up a treasure trove of evidence. The LAPD found a videotape Horn had made that showed him driving along the route from a Rockville, Maryland, Days Inn to the suburban neighborhood where his ex-wife lived. The officers also recovered a hand-drawn map of Millie Horn's street and the houses along it. Detectives believe that Horn shared this information with the hired killer. Feral suggests similar methods of preparation in Hit Man.
Maryland investigators also began checking Horn's phone records. Wittenberg discovered that approximately two hours after the murders, Horn had received a call made from a Montgomery County pay phone just a few miles from Millie Horn's home.
The detectives then began the painstaking task of checking hotel registrations in the area near the pay phone. "We compiled a list and looked at everybody who'd been at the hotels that week," Wittenberg says. Perry immediately stood out. He'd been registered at the Days Inn in Rockville for only six hours--from midnight until 6 a.m. the day of the murders. (Investigators believe the killings occurred about 3 a.m.)
In registering at the hotel, Perry had ignored one of Feral's bits of wisdom. Feral advises using a fake ID and registering under a false name, but Perry signed his own name and presented his own driver's license for identification--and the hotel clerk made a photocopy of the Michigan license.
"Once we came up with Perry's name," Wittenberg says, "things started snowballing."
By November 1993, detectives had gathered enough information to obtain a search warrant of Perry's Detroit home. And though they didn't find a smoking gun, they did find some interesting reading material. Perry had hardback books on evidentiary issues and police investigations, among them Management of Gunshot Wounds and Interpretation of Blood Stain Evidence of Crime Scenes. Officers also found a copy of the Paladin Press catalogue. (Feral suggests that professional assassins bone up on investigative techniques.)
"What happened basically after that," Wittenberg says, "was that we got the magazines and brought them back here and I ended up calling the individual publications to see if he'd purchased anything or subscribed to anything, and lo and behold, Paladin Press called back and said he'd bought two books"--Hit Man and a volume about making silencers.
"When I heard that," Wittenberg says, "I was stunned. We had been inching along with the investigationR>, and getting the news that day was pretty much a highlight. Or one of the highlights. Just knowing he had purchased it and written a personal check for it was a dream come true."
Detectives figured from the title alone that they were on the right track, though they had to order the books for themselves before they knew for sure. "Then I had to sit down and had the pleasure of reading the whole book," Wittenberg says. "It's pretty incredible, the information that's contained in there."
To Millie Horn's family, however, it seemed that the case was moving too slowly. Six months after the murders, Millie's sister, Vivian Rice, filed a civil suit against Lawrence Horn to keep him from claiming Trevor's estate. Citing Maryland's "slayer rule," Rice alleged that Lawrence Horn was responsible for the deaths of Millie and Trevor and therefore was not entitled to the money.
Still the case dragged on. Finally, in July 1994--after investigators had obtained phone records and wiretaps tracking upwards of 140 phone calls between Perry and Lawrence Horn--the two men were arrested and charged with identical counts of triple murder and conspiracy. (Perry did not respond to requests for an interview; Horn's attorney declined to allow his client to speak with Westword.)
At Perry's trial in October 1995, investigators took the stand and testified that they were able to place Perry in Maryland three or more times between the summer of 1992, when he met Lawrence Horn, and March 1993, when the murders were committed. Prosecutors suggested the visits were to scout out Millie Horn's house, an action that Feral recommends in Hit Man.
Detectives also produced evidence showing that prior to the murders, Perry had received $5,000 to $6,000 in cash that had been wired to him from an office near Lawrence Horn's home. That money, Wittenberg says, was probably for expenses only. "What [Horn] promised to pay Perry, we don't know," he says. "I'm sure neither one of them is going to come forward and tell us that." (HiR>t Man suggests that $30,000 is a fair price--more if the intended victim is a law enforcement officer or a judge.)
Thomas Turner, who was granted immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony, said at trial that he'd rented a car for Perry, which Perry then used to drive from Detroit to Maryland to carry out the murders.
But it was Hit Man that proved crucial to the case. "It helped tie James Perry to the murders and established a sequence of events suggested in the book," says prosecutor Robert Dean. "Along with other evidence, it clearly indicated that someone who read the book committed these crimes."
In closing arguments, prosecutors showed the jury a chart they'd made listing 22 steps taken directly from Hit Man. Perry had followed all of them in carrying out the murders. "I'm sure," Dean says, "we could have come up with more."
The jury took five hours to render a guilty verdict against Perry. And it took only four hours to determine that he should die for his crimes.
Horn's trial is scheduled to begin April 1.
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.
--Excerpt from Hit Man
When Millie Horn's family filed suit against Paladin in December, the action sent Paladin and its defenders into a tizzy.
Lund, who seldom grants interviews, told the New York Times last month that his company "had nothing to do with inciting Mr. Perry to murder." He said, too, that the suit could bankrupt his company.
Lund initially looked to Baker and Hostetler for help with the suit. After all, the firm's Bruce Sanford had written a "friend of the court" brief that helped win a 1987 case for Soldier of Fortune that also involved a murder-for-hire scheme. But Baker and Hostetler declined to take the case, citing a "confR>lict of interest," the nature of which Sanford will not disclose. That led Paladin to Kelley.
Even though Baker and Hostetler isn't officially defending Paladin, the law firm has sent letters to various publishing groups in an attempt to raise funds and gather supporters to fight what the letter refers to as "a dangerous new lawsuit."
"It is critical that this new lawsuit be dismissed as a matter of law prior to trial," says the letter. "A trial of the case (and the possibility of an adverse verdict) can only spawn a multitude of derivative lawsuits and fuel the efforts to censor words and pictures that portray violence (whatever that may be)."
Plaintiffs' attorneys say, however, that they're not denying Paladin's right to publish, nor are they attempting to put the company out of business.
"We're not going after this book because of the opinion it expresses, because of its viewpoint or because it's offensive," says Rod Smolla, a professor of law at the College of William and Mary who has signed on to aid the plaintiffs. "It's not like people who prosecute flag burners or the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, who wish to bar information because they disagree with their message. Our point is that there is no message here other than informational training on the art of being a gun for hire. And that is not the kind of information that even triggers First Amendment protection."
The legal issues at stake in the case have attracted some of the country's most prominent free-speech attorneys. Smolla is a nationally known expert on constitutional law and the author of the book Free Speech in an Open Society. Sanford won acclaim when he successfully intervened in the 1987 Soldier of Fortune case, convincing an appeals court that the wording of a classified ad by a hired killer looking for "high-risk assignments" was "too ambiguous" for the magazine to be held liable for the murders the man subsequently committed. Howard Siegel, too, brings a high level of legal expertise to the case, having won a prR>ecedent-setting 1985 suit in which he claimed that the manufacturer of Saturday night specials was ultimately liable for the shooting of a grocery store clerk.
In fact, the plaintiffs' team is expected to use some of the same arguments that helped Siegel win the Saturday-night-special case. One of those arguments, says plaintiffs' attorney John Marshall, is "that if they make a decision to publish this book, they bear the responsibility if somebody gets hurt."
Sanford says that, taken to its logical conclusion, that line of reasoning could implicate tens of thousands of journalistic and artistic works. "Any legal ruling would have a definite effect on mainstream publishers," says the attorney. "Soldiers have military manuals that contain even more explicit instructions [than does Hit Man], and those are available to the public. You can find out how to build an atom bomb on the Internet."
But plaintiffs' attorneys dismiss Sanford's argument that the Horn case could have a disastrous effect on the mainstream media. The reason, says Marshall, is that the case will hinge on intent.
"The first three sentences of the preface state pretty brazenly that it's an instruction book to teach people to murder," Marshall says. "This book lays it out plain as day that its intent is to teach murderers to do their job. That's its only intent. And that makes a huge difference. A newspaper article does not advocate setting out with the intent that anybody would get hurt."
Military manuals are written with the expectation that people will get hurt, Marshall notes, but the intent in such cases is not criminal. "Even in our society, there are times when killing is permissible or acceptable--in war or self-defense," he says. "But these [Paladin publications] are not books about self-defense or facing the enemy across a battle line. They're about setting yourself up in business to kill unknowing people, innocent people."
If disposing of the body becomes a part of your job assignmentR>, you should charge an additional hefty sum. The risks you take in carrying out the request and the extra time you spend with the corpse are certainly deserving of higher compensationEIf you have a really strong stomach, you can always cut the body into sections and pack it into an ice chest for transport and disposal around the countryside.
--Excerpt from Hit Man
Peder Lund has said on numerous occasions that he does not advocate readers using the information he purveys for illegal purposes. Many of the company's publications carry disclaimers warning that the material within is intended only for "informational purposes," "academic study" or "entertainment purposes."
But critics charge that Paladin's disclaimers are transparent shams. And the disclaimers in the catalogue at times do appear to be accompanied by a wink and a smile.
"Finally, under one cover, all the information you need to build, maintain and deploy your own heavy weapons and explosives, as well as the skills to protect them and you from nosy bureaucrats, neighbors and potential enemies," reads one entry. "For academic study only."
"By now, you know that you don't have to take the crap of the world lying down, getting frustrated as the assholes keep dumping it on," notes an ad for a book on revenge. "Make My Day! teaches you how to take their crap and send it flying back. All that's needed is your hand to turn on the fanEFor entertainment purposes only."
Hit Man carries similar disclaimers. "Neither the author nor the publisher assumes responsibility for the use or misuse of information contained in this book," reads a paragraph near the front of the book. "For informational purposes only!"
The disclaimers, says attorney Sanford, "are a reminder to people not to misuse the information in the book. It's a responsible thing to do. Some people say, 'Oh, they expect that to save them from legal responsibility,' but I don't think that's true. Even without a disclaimer, they could not be held liable."
R> Plaintiffs' lawyer Siegel agrees with Sanford that the disclaimer means nothing from a legal standpoint. "The cover [of Hit Man] is purple," he says. "If it carried a disclaimer saying the cover is green, that doesn't make the book any less purple. And what Hit Man is, is a murder manual. So [Lund] can disclaim his brains out, and it doesn't mean a thing."
Sanford says customer surveys commissioned by Paladin show that its customers are generally of two types: law enforcement agents and Walter Mitty characters who read the manuals for cathartic effect. Paladin seeks out that latter group--along with bona fide macho adventurers--by concentrating its marketing efforts at gun shows and in magazines such as Soldier of Fortune. It also runs advertisements that feed on the fears of those leery of government control.
"This book may seem controversial and dangerous," reads a Paladin blurb for the book Guerrilla's Arsenal: Advanced Techniques for Making Explosives and Time-Delay Bombs. "But such information may someday be the life-blood of freedom fighters under the oppressive thumb of a tyrannical government that has secured all means of force unto itself."
That may be one reason why (according to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith) Paladin's Ultimate Sniper book is recommended reading by the Wyoming Militia.
Siegel says that pattern of targeting customers who have a self-professed interest in weapons and how to use them makes it difficult for Paladin to claim it has no intention of inciting violence. "Lund knows where his stuff is going and how it is being used," Siegel charges, "and he should be the last human being on the planet to be surprised that someone would use it for a criminal purpose. Paladin Press markets its products to a particular type of person, and you can't ignore that. They seek out through their advertisements misfits, failures, murderers, would-be criminals and terrorists."
In some cases, Paladin's marketing is even too strong for the mercenaries at Soldier oR>f Fortune. For instance, though Paladin advertises numerous wares in the magazine, Soldier of Fortune refuses to run ads for Hit Man. "Let's just say that Mr. Brown is not really comfortable with those types of ads," says Alex McColl, the magazine's director of special projects.
Brown's aversion to ads touting the services of professional killers may well trace back to his own classifieds section. Unlike the ad cited in the case Sanford helped the magazine win, there was nothing ambiguous about a classified notice purchased in 1985 by Richard "Doc" Savage. The former Army courier, cop and security guard offered himself as a "gun for hire" and was soon swamped with offers. "Nearly everybody wanted somebody killed," Savage was later quoted as saying. "They wanted me to kill their wives, mothers, fathers and girlfriends."
Savage established a gang to cope with the workload. Among other things, he and his cohorts firebombed a car, blew up a poultry company, killed a Florida woman and, on August 26, 1985, murdered Atlanta businessman Richard Braun.
Braun's sons, Michael and Ian, filed suit against Soldier of Fortune in March 1988, claiming that the ad was "a clear solicitation for criminal activity." The court eventually awarded them $4.37 million in damages, though the Brauns probably received a great deal less than that in the end. (Brown settled with the Brauns for a confidential sum, one that allowed the magazine to keep operating.)
Siegel's team studied the Braun case closely when deciding whether or not to take on Paladin. What the attorneys decided, says Siegel, was that the case against Paladin is "infinitely stronger."
Kelley has yet to file an answer to Siegel's December complaint, and attorneys for both sides have no idea when they might meet in court. But that might not be bad news for Paladin. Lund told the New York Times last month that publicity over the book and the suit have actually increased his mail-order sales.
Indeed, sales of Hit Man have been brisk at BoulderR>'s Paladin Arms gun shop (which is not connected to the publishing company). "I don't ever remember selling one until the lawsuit," says clerk Ron Cole. "But we had to reorder last week. We sold out the first batch.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.