‘Hit man manual’ publisher wins dismissal in murder case
MARYLAND–A federal District Court in Greenbelt dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against a publisher of a book that described how to become a professional hit man, holding that the book was protected by the First Amendment.
The court granted summary judgment to Paladin Enterprises, Inc., which published “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors,” which James Perry apparently read before he killed a woman, her 8-year-old son, and his nurse. Perry had been hired by the woman’s ex-husband, and both have been convicted of the murders.
In its late August opinion, the court stated that the book did not fit into the category of unprotected speech that includes words likely to incite imminent, lawless activity. The court distinguished between speech that merely advocates illegal acts, which is protected by the First Amendment, and speech that incites imminent lawless activity, which is not protected.
The court 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.'”
Instead, the court ruled that the book was advocacy. “Advocacy is defined as mere abstract teaching,” the court stated. “The court finds that the book merely teaches what must be done to implement a professional hit. The book does not cross that line between permissible advocacy and impermissible incitation to crime or violence.”
The court concluded that First Amendment protection was not eliminated simply because the publication of an idea created a potential hazard. The court also noted that a published disclaimer stating that the book was “for information purposes only” was an attempt by Paladin to dissuade readers from engaging in the activity it described. (Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc.; Media Counsel: Thomas Kelley, Denver; Lee Levine, Washington, D.C.)