Triple murder trial begins for James Edward Perry
Mar. 21, 2001
Effie Bathen
Staff Writer

In the eyes of the law, James Edward Perry is an innocent man.

In a crowded Rockville courtroom Tuesday afternoon, the 52-year-old Detroit man watched for the second time as prosecution and defense attorneys gave their opening arguments in what has been one of the most complex trials in Montgomery County history.

A 1995 triple-murder conviction had sent Perry to Maryland's death row for more than four years, but that ruling was overturned on a technicality in December 1999.

This week prosecutors are attempting to prove to a new jury that Perry was the hired killer in the 1993 deaths of an invalid boy, the boy's mother and an overnight nurse in Layhill.

Perry again stands accused of being the "hit man" in the slayings of 8-year-old Trevor Anthony Horn; his mother, Mildred Maree Horn; and the boy's nurse, Janice Roberts Saunders of Goldvein, Va.

In a related trial heard in Frederick in 1996, the father of the boy, Lawrence T. Horn, was convicted of hiring someone to kill the boy and his mother so that he would collect the boy's $1.7 million trust fund.

Horn, of Hollywood, Calif., is currently serving a life sentence without parole. His conviction withstood an automatic appeals process.

The same process overturned Perry's conviction because a 22-second tape recording linking Horn and Perry was inappropriately admitted into evidence.

In his opening statement Tuesday, Deputy State's Attorney John McCarthy described the murders and conspiracy much in the same way as the 1995 trial.

"James Perry is a killer, a contract murderer," he said."On March 3, 1993, he broke into a home ... and summarily cold-bloodedly executed Mildred Horn, 43 years old."

He told the jurors she was shot three times in the head, "once in the right eye."

He told them Saunders was shot twice in the head, "once in the left eye."

And he told them that 8-year-old Trevor was suffocated.

Former Montgomery County State's Attorney Robert Dean, an assistant state's attorney at the time of the original trial, prosecuted the 1995 case along with former Assistant State's Attorney Theresa Whalen.

Dean, now an assistant state's attorney in Prince George's County, has returned to prosecute the case a second time with McCarthy.

Perry's new defense lawyers are Vicky Tyler, a deputy public defender, and William Brennan, an experienced private attorney from Prince George's County, who has tried at least a dozen capital cases.

During her opening statement, Tyler placed two hands on Perry's shoulders and addressed the jury.

"James Perry is innocent. James Perry did not commit these crimes," she said. "He is the fall guy, the dupe, the person who was set up to take the rap in this case."

Tyler told the jury it was Horn and his first cousin, Thomas Turner, who had the arrogance and savvy to commit the crime. Both Horn and Turner took elaborate measures to establish alibis at the time of the murders, she added.

Tyler added that no physical evidence linked Perry to the murders. Fibers, footprints and fingerprints found at the scene of the murders did not match Perry's, she said.

A gag order requested by Perry's public defense team several months ago bans any public statements about the case outside of the courtroom.

The lawyers argued their point before a jury of 12 people and six alternates, who had been selected from more than 300 potential jurors in a three-day process that began last week.

Potential jurors were individually questioned in Circuit Court Judge Martha G. Kavanaugh's chambers last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

During the jury selection process, Perry sat between his lawyers in a fresh dark suit, white shirt and striped tie as jurors filed in one by one to answer Kavanaugh's questions.

In the trial, which is scheduled to take 28 days, the jury will decide Perry's fate in two phases. First, the jury must decide his guilt or innocence. Second, it will have three choices for a sentence: death, life imprisonment without parole, or life imprisonment.

In the 1995 trial, investigators tried to link Perry to Horn through documents detailing more than 160 telephone calls placed from sites near both men's homes, as well as records of places and times when they were traveling.

Prosecutors called more than 100 witnesses in that trial.

"... Anything could go wrong," said Michael Saunders, who was left a widower by the murders and continues to believe that Perry is the man who killed his wife.

"To this day, no one has come forward to say that it was anyone but him," Saunders said.

He added that he would be willing to pay a reward to anyone who could prove to him that it was another person.

"My fear is that Perry could walk out of that courtroom free," he said.