Blaming its insurance company for declining to risk a jury trial that was scheduled to begin last week, Paladin Press, publisher of the controversial murder how-to manual Hit Man, has agreed to pay a multimillion-dollar settlement to end a six-year-old civil suit charging the house with aiding and abetting murder.
In addition to the settlement -- rumored to be around $5 million -- Paladin agreed to cease publishing the book. The settlement lets stand a federal appellate court ruling (News, Nov. 17, 1997) that the book was not protected by the First Amendment. It is apparently the first time in American publishing history that a publisher has been held liable for a crime committed by a reader.
According to a statement provided by Jon Ford, editorial director of Paladin Press, the firm's insurance company decided to settle because "it would be less expensive to settle now and avoid the cost" of the trial and subsequent appeals. The statement continues: "Paladin had no say in the insurance company's decision and, as we were dependent upon the insurance carrier's financial support, we of necessity had to go along. We are extremely disappointed with this development." Asked whether the settlement would affect the other books on Paladin's list (the company specializes in similar manuals on crime, violence and munitions), Ford told PW the house was studying the question.
The suit charged Paladin Press with aiding and abetting murder after a copy of Hit Man was found among the belongings of a man later convicted of the contract killing of three people. The victims' families subsequently filed suit (News, May 19, 1993), claiming the victims were killed using techniques outlined in the book.
Publishing law expert Martin Garbus told PW the decision to settle the case is "awful, it's terrible; withdrawing the book will only lead to more lawsuits. There are a lot of books with the same kind of information -- Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, for instance. It's nonsense to believe that there are secrets in Hit Man that you can't find anywhere else."
Howard Siegel, attorney for the victims' families, told PW the families had agreed to the settlement only after the publisher agreed to take the book off the market.
Siegel also emphasized that the case sets a legal precedent: "publishers have no unique right to abet murder." He likened the stand of the publishing industry on the case --15 media firms and associations, including the Association of American Publishers, submitted briefs in support of Paladin -- to that of the National Rifle Association on guns. "The publishing industry," he insisted, "couldn't distinguish the difference between fiction, legitimate publishing and Hit Man."