Issue 63, Fall 1996

A suit brought against a publisher for allegedly aiding and abetting a triple murder by publishing a “how-to” manual for contract killers was dismissed in a federal district court. The case against Paladin Press was brought by relatives of the victims who claimed that the book, called Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, had been purchased and read by the man later convicted and sentenced to die for the murders and therefore the publishers should be held responsible. The Association of American Publishers and other media groups filed an amicus brief urging that the case be dismissed.

In dismissing the case, Judge Alexander Williams said the book was “reprehensible, but it is not an exception to freedom of speech principles in the First Amendment.” A guiding standard for this case is Brandenburg v. Ohio which prohibits punishment of speech unless the speech is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

Interviewed in the New York Times, NCAC Executive Director Leanne Katz described the case as “like a nightmare” but said “there is something kind of nutty in trying to hold expression responsible for criminal acts.”