Cover image for Deliberate intent : a lawyer tells the true story of murder by the book
Deliberate intent : a lawyer tells the true story of murder by the book
Smolla, Rodney A.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 276 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF228.R488 S63 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Deliberate Intentis the riveting account of the landmark Hit Man case, by noted First Amendment attorney Rod Smolla, who risked reputation and career when he took on a cause that seemed to oppose his strongest beliefs.          Early in 1992, Lawrence Horn hired a contract killer to execute his ex-wife and his severely brain-damaged son. On March 3, 1992, the man he hired, James Perry, traveled to Silver Spring, Maryland, and murdered Horn's ex-wife and child and the boy's nurse. Perry used a book called Hit Man as an instruction manual for the murders. The subsequent criminal trial became known as the Hit Man case, and after Horn and Perry were convicted of murder, the victims' families surprised the nation by filing an unprecedented wrongful death suit against Paladin Press, publisher of Hit Man. In a controversial turn of events, Paladin was being blamed for the murders.          Distinguished attorney Rod Smolla, First Amendment expert and vigorous advocate of free speech, was approached to represent the victims' families in the civil suit against Paladin. Smolla initially declined, but after reading Hit Man and likening it to "a loaded pistol or a vial of poison," he decided to take on the case, even though it seemed to go against his abiding belief in the First Amendment. Smolla argued that if Paladin Press knew and intended that its murder manual Hit Man would be used in the actual planning and execution of contract killings, Paladin was not entitled to immunity under the First Amendment. In an appeal that stunned the legal world, Smolla's argument prevailed and was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Deliberate Intent is the dramatic story of the events behind this landmark case--a story that includes murder, trials, and appeals and, most important, raises fascinating and difficult questions about our most cherished freedom.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The saga of Paladin Press and its legal troubles should greatly interest librarians, book lovers, and freedom's friends in general, for it deals with freedom of speech and a publisher's responsibility for the uses made of its publications. Paladin was sued because its book Hit Man was used in planning a murder for hire. Unfortunately, Smolla is a thorough lawyer, so although the blood, guts, and creepiness of the case and of Paladin come through, point-by-point fascination with the legal process dulls narrative immediacy. The book ends with the Supreme Court refusal to set aside a judgment that Paladin could be sued for damages. "A jury would ultimately have to decide if [Paladin] in fact acted with . . . deliberate intent" in teaching the efficient performance of murder. Alas, this account of a publisher learning it "was not absolutely protected by the First Amendment" is no Ann Rule opus. The vital, dangerous case could have been related much more clearly. Still, its portrait of the fun-loving gang at Paladin fascinates and chills. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

FYI: The Fourth Circuit's decision meant that the families had a right to file a civil suit against Paladin, which they did. As PW reported (News, May 31), Paladin recently settled out of court for an estimated $5 million and agreed to cease publishing Hit Man. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Smolla, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Richmond, has written an intimate and detailed account of the successful civil suit against Paladin Press, publisher of the murder manual Hit Man (1983), which was used to commit a triple murder in 1992. Smolla was hired by Howard Seigel, who sued Paladin Press on behalf of the victims' families. This well-done book, written for a lay audience, describes the murders, the investigation, and the suit in a straightforward narrative, embellished by Smolla's side commentaries on the personal backgrounds of the players. The only disappointments are the failure to include portions of the parties' legal briefs and a sampling of the media reaction to the case. Overall, Smolla has done an admirable job of explaining why the Constitution can bar the publication of a book like Hit Man. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/99.]ÄHarry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter 1 A Boy Named Trevor Howard Siegel's phone call came out of the bright October blue. I had just returned to my office, a cluster of students still in tow, after teaching my morning class in constitutional law. Sexual privacy was the topic of the day, and the classroom discussion had been passionate and animated. "All straight space is gay space!" The comment was from Paul, one of my brightest students, an ordained minister and an activist on gay and lesbian rights. "I believe that the Constitution should protect same-sex marriage." At Paul's remark a hand bolted into the air like a military salute. I called on Jennifer, knowing things were about to get rough. "The very idea of same-sex marriage is a moral abomination," she sneered with disgust, "and I just cannot understand how anyone could consider making legal the scourge of homosexuality." Jennifer's comment torched a debate so vehement it verged on the edge of riot. Unsatisfied by my feeble suggestion that we let matters cool until our next session, some ten or twelve students had followed me upstairs after class to carry on the fight in the sitting room outside my office door. Jennifer and Paul were in each other's face and in each other's space, getting louder and louder. The trill of the phone gave me an excuse to duck away from the battle. "Is this Professor Rod Smolla?" It was a loud, assertive voice, spiced with a touch of growl. For a moment I thought Rush Limbaugh had called me. "This is Rod Smolla," I said warily, thinking maybe I should have lied. "My name is Howard Siegel. You've never heard of me, though you've probably read about a case I tried a few years ago that made history. It's in all the law school casebooks now. Kelley v. R.G. Industries. I represented the victim in a convenient store shooting in a suit against the manufacturer of the Saturday Night Special the gunman used. Anyhow, that's neither here nor there. I'm calling you about a very unusual case I've got up here in Rockville, Maryland. I've been checking with folks all over the country, and everyone keeps mentioning your name as the expert. So that's why I'm calling. We have a chance to make history." Through the crack in my office door I could see more students gathering to join the quarrelsome din. I had the choice of trying to quell the mob or listen to a madman. I went with the madman. "Well, before we go making any history," I chuckled, "why don't we take it by the numbers? How about telling me what this is all about?" Howard Siegel then proceeded to unlock and unload. We didn't have what you could really call a conversation. It was more a declamation, a piece of oratory, like a closing argument to a jury, with soaring waves of emotion, dramatic pauses, and impassioned appeals. I'd never heard anything like it--at least not on the telephone. This guy really thought he was about to make history. And for some cockamamie reason he thought I was going to be part of the program. "Howard," I said when he had finished, "we've got a little complication here." "And what's that?" "Something called the First Amendment. Did you ever hear of a case called Brandenburg v. Ohio?" "No. What's Brandenburg v. Ohio?" "It's a Supreme Court decision from 1969." I pulled a copy of the Supreme Court Reports from my bookshelf and turned to the case. "Here's the citation," I said, cradling the phone between cheek and shoulder. "You read the case. Meanwhile, I'll do some thinking about what you've told me. Then we'll talk." "We need you in this case," Howard insisted. "It'll be the 'dream team'." ********** Erin, my seven year-old daughter, was swinging hand-over-hand across the monkey bars. Corey, her two-year-old sister, was playing in the sandbox with a bevy of other rugrats. It was a gorgeous Indian summer afternoon in Williamsburg, Virginia. Fluorescent red, orange, and yellow hardwood leaves fluttered in a crisp breeze against a turquoise sky. We were at Kidsburg, Williamsburg's new mega-playground, a place big enough to have its own zip code. There must have been two hundred kids swarming the kiddie metropolis, romping on slides, ropes, tires, swings, ladders, towers, teeter-totters, sand boxes, forts, and playhouses, and about twenty-five or thirty parents, grandparents, older siblings, and nannies, some of the adults pushing kids on swings or holding little ones as they swooped down slides, but most lounging in lazy supervision on benches, reading books, soaking up the last fading rays of fall sunshine, or chatting idly with friends. I spotted a couple of grandfathers, and one other dad, but the adults were overwhelmingly women. Among all these various soccer moms and soccer mom surrogates, I was the only one in a business suit. Our child-care provider, Diane Lee, had the afternoon off for a doctor's appointment, and I'd gone directly from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary to the playground to take over from Diane. Erin and Corey were well-ensconced in play, so I took to an unoccupied bench to watch them. They were angelic children, cavorting in a day made by angels. The air was scented with fresh pine mulch and the pungent fragrance of hundreds of fall mums, blooming purple, yellow, and burnt orange throughout the park. Corey left the sandbox, making headlong for a teeter-totter. I sprang from the bench and trotted over to her. Teeter-totters are not meant for two-year-olds. Putting Corey on one end I took the opposite seat and, keeping my feet on the ground, gave her a ride. As I bounced her gently up and down, she giggled with a laugh that could launch a thousand ships. Her merriment turned to envy, however, as she spied an itinerant toddler grabbing the pail and shovel she had abandoned in the sandbox. Leaving me high and dry, she bolted back for the sand. Violence was averted as I and the other toddler's mother worked out a sharing arrangement. My mind wandered to Howard Siegel's phone call, and I felt my temples knot and my stomach tighten. Howard's call that morning had come at a vulnerable moment. For two years I had been writing a novel, which I titled The Nominee, about the dean of a law school who is nominated to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. As he navigates the shoals of the brutal confirmation process, however, we find that all in his life is not what it seems. You couldn't really call this an "autobiographical first novel," I suppose, because I am never going to be appointed to the Supreme Court. On the other hand, not all in my life was what it seemed. The facade looked real pretty, but beneath the surface I was heavily mortgaged. Professionally, the world was my oyster. Maybe not oysters Rockefeller, maybe more your common everyday oysters on the half-shell, but oysters nonetheless. I held a good job at a good law school, and everything in my life was settled and secure. But something was missing. A line from a Sheryl Crow song kept running through my mind: "If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?" I was at once paragon and paradox, fulfilled yet discontented, rock-steady but restless and ready for revolution. I didn't need this Howard Siegel. Excerpted from Deliberate Intent: A Lawyer Tells the True Story of Murder by the Book by Rodney A. Smolla All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.