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Law School Case Brief

Rice v. Paladin Enters. - 128 F.3d 233 (4th Cir. 1997)


The mere abstract teaching of the moral propriety or even moral necessity for a resort to force and violence or any of the other forms of discourse critical of government, its policies, and its leaders, have always animated, and to this day continue to animate, the First Amendment. The detailed, focused instructional assistance to those contemplating or in the throes of planning murder is the antithesis of speech protected under Brandenburg. It is the teaching of the "techniques" of violence, the advocacy and teaching of concrete action, the preparation for violent action and the steeling to such action. It is the instruction in the methods of terror. The freedom to speak is not absolute; the teaching of methods of terror should be beyond the pale. As such, the murder instructions in a book are, collectively, a textbook example of the type of speech that the U.S. Supreme Court has quite purposely left unprotected, and the prosecution of which, criminally or civilly, has historically been thought subject to few, if any, First Amendment constraints. Accordingly, the court holds that the First Amendment does not pose a bar to a civil aiding and abetting cause of action against the publisher of such a book.


On the night of March 3, 1993, readied by the instructions and steeled by the seductive adjurations from Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, a copy of which was subsequently found in his apartment, James Perry brutally murdered Mildred Horn, her eight-year-old quadriplegic son Trevor, and Trevor's nurse, Janice Saunders, by shooting Mildred Horn and Saunders through the eyes and by strangling Trevor Horn. Perry's despicable crime was not one of vengeance; he did not know any of his victims. Nor did he commit the murders in the course of another offense. Perry acted instead as a contract killer, a "hit man," hired by Mildred Horn's ex-husband, Lawrence Horn, to murder Horn's family so that Horn would receive the $ 2 million that his son had received in settlement for injuries that had previously left him paralyzed for life. At the time of the murders, this money was held in trust for the benefit of Trevor, and, under the terms of the trust instrument, the trust money was to be distributed tax-free to Lawrence in the event of Mildred's and Trevor's deaths. In soliciting, preparing for, and committing these murders, Perry meticulously followed countless of Hit Man's 130 pages of detailed factual instructions on how to murder and to become a professional killer.

In this civil, state-law wrongful death action against defendant Paladin Enterprises, the publisher of Hit Man, the relatives and representatives of Mildred and Trevor Horn and Janice Saunders alleged that Paladin aided and abetted Perry in the commission of his murders through its publication of Hit Man's killing instructions. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of Paladin because appellant's claims of aiding and abetting were barred by U.S. Const. amend. I. Appellant sought review. 


Was Paladin's stipulations that it intended to help criminals commit crimes when it published books, sufficient to establish appellant personal representatives' claims that Paladin aided and abetted in the murders of three victims?




Speech that was tantamount to legitimately proscribable nonexpressive conduct could be proscribed, punished, or regulated. Speech was not protected by U.S. Const. amend. I when it was the very vehicle of the crime itself. U.S. Const. amend. I did not provide a defense to a criminal charge simply because the actor used words to carry out his illegal purpose. The court reversed and remanded because Paladin stipulated that in marketing the book, it intended to help criminals commit crimes. Based on Paladin's stipulations, there was sufficient evidence to establish that Paladin aided and abetted the crimes through its publication.

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