Longform

Death Sentences

Page 7 of 9

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."

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Karen Bowers