Can a publisher who markets a training manual for murder be hauled into civil court after the book is used to help someone kill three people?

In a closely watched case, a federal appeals court held that the publisher of a book entitled Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors may be liable for damages for "aiding and abetting" murder.

In April, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the publisher's claim that the First Amendment shielded it from responsibility. Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, 128 F.3d 233 (4th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 66 U.S.L.W. 3686 (U.S. Apr. 20, 1988) (No. 97-1325). The case is now proceeding toward trial.

The lawsuit involves Paladin Press of Boulder, Colo., a publisher that markets books on survivalism, warfare and weaponry. Paladin Press owner Peder Lund started the company in 1970 after serving as a captain with the Army's Green Berets. Paladin's books are available primarily at gun shows and through a mail order catalogue advertised in magazines like Soldier of Fortune.

One Paladin manual, Homemade C-4: A Recipe for Survival, is alleged to have aided convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in the construction of the ammonium nitrate truck bomb used to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in April 1995.

Recipe for Murder
Contract killer James Perry used Hit Man and another Paladin book, How to Make a Disposable Silencer, Volume II, to plan a triple execution in 1993.

Hit Man was written under a pseudonym, Rex Feral, in 1983. The Silencer book was also published that same year under a pseudonym. Since then, both books have sold in excess of 13,000 copies each.

Following specific instructions from Hit Man, Perry executed three people in Silver Springs, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., on the night of March 3, 1993. Perry shot both Mildred Horn and Janice Saunders, a home care nurse, three times in the eyes with a modified AR-7 rifle from a distance of three feet.

The two women cared for Mildred Horn's 8-year-old quadriplegic son, Trevor, who was suffocated to death by Perry the same evening.

Perry had been hired to commit the murders by Lawrence Horn. Horn wanted his ex-wife, Mildred, and his son, Trevor, killed so he could reap the proceeds of a $1.7 million medical malpractice settlement awarded to his son after the boy sustained debilitating injuries during a hospital stay.

Perry, a native of Detroit, carefully followed over two dozen instructions from Hit Man to plan and commit the murders and then to flee from the crime scene. He relied on the book's guidance in making solicitations to and in accepting payment from Lawrence Horn.

Just as Hit Man instructed its readers, Perry chose an AR-7 rifle, obscured the gun's serial number and affixed a silencer to it before shooting his victims. He removed ejected shells from the crime scene and tussled some of the victims' belongings to make the murders appear to be part of a burglary — again, just as the book recommended.

To avoid detection after the murders, Perry followed the book's instructions to disassemble the gun, file down its components, dump the pieces by the side of a road and flee the scene in a rental car bearing a stolen license plate.