James E. Perry committed murder by the book. Now the book's publisher is accused of aiding and abetting his crimes.
In a case that legal scholars say could set a precedent in First Amendment law if allowed to proceed, a federal judge Monday said he would rule in 30 days on a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the publisher of Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors.
"This is quite an interesting case. I had a chance to read it and like most of the public, I didn't particularly like it," U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. said Monday.
Perry is accused of following 27 recommendations in the book when he killed a mother, her disabled son and the boy's nurse, shooting both women between the eyes and unplugging the boy's respirator.
The victims' families have sued for unspecified damages, saying the author's intent was to teach murder.
The $10, 130-page book has sold 13,000 copies since it was published in 1983 by Paladin Press of Boulder, Colo., a small company that sells mostly through mail orders from its catalog.
But this case has brought the small publisher support from mainstream journalism. A trade group including the Newspaper Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Association of American Publishers, filed a brief supporting Paladin's motion to dismiss the case.
In court Monday, plaintiffs' attorney Rodney Smolla said the book was a "blueprint for murder" with a checklist, graphics and charts.
Attorneys for Paladin Press acknowledged the book could be used for criminal purposes but said it is also useful for law enforcement and fiction writing.
Perry and the man who hired him, Lawrence T. Horn, were both convicted for the deaths of Horn's ex-wife, Mildred Horn; their 8-year-old quadriplegic son, Trevor; and the boy's nurse, Janice Saunders, in the family's Silver Spring home in 1993.
Horn, 56, an unemployed former Motown Records technician who wanted to inherit $1.7-million won for his son in a malpractice suit, got life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Perry was sentenced to death.
According to the lawsuit, Perry followed 27 steps outlined in the book, down to such detail as recommending that shooters stand 3 to 4 feet from a victim to avoid being splattered with blood.
Tim Gleason, associate dean at the University of Oregon's journalism school, said most cases in this area ultimately fail.
"Imagine the chilling effect it would have if every writer was held responsible for actions" taken after people read their words, Gleason said.