Appellate court reverses dismissal of ‘hit man manual’ case
MARYLAND–A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., in mid- November ruled that the First Amendment does not protect a book that provides instruction on how to become a professional hit man.
The opinion by a panel of three appellate judges reversed the decision of the federal District Court in Greenbelt, Md., which in August 1996 dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against Paladin Enterprises, Inc., the publisher of “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors.”
Lee Levine, Paladin’s attorney, said that the publisher would petition the court for a rehearing.
“We think the court’s opinion reflects the fact that the judges didn’t care for the book,” Levine said, “and they appeared to allow their views about it to single it out as not entitled to First Amendment protection. But that’s exactly backward. The First Amendment is there to provide protection for things people don’t like.”
The suit against Paladin was filed by relatives of Mildred Horn, her eight-year-old son, Trevor, and Trevor’s nurse, Janice Saunders, who were killed by James Perry. Perry, who was hired by Mildred Horn’s ex-husband, Lawrence, to commit the murders, allegedly read the hit man manual before committing the crimes.
U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams stated that in order to be liable for the deaths, Paladin Enterprises must have intended that Perry would purchase the book and immediately murder the three victims. The murders were committed a year after Perry purchased the book, according to the court, and nothing in “Hit Man” could be characterized as a command to kill immediately. The court stated that it has “read the book and concludes that, although morally repugnant, it does not constitute incitement or ‘a call to action.'”
The appellate court did not agree. The three-judge panel focused on the publisher’s alleged admission that it knew the book would be used by professional killers to “assist them in the planning, commission and coverup of their crimes.”
The court declared that the First Amendment did not protect “speech so explicit in its palpable entreaties to violent crime.” (Rice v. Paladin Enterprises; Media Attorney: Lee Levine, Washington, D.C.)