ANNAPOLIS – A taped conversation with a co-conspirator helped convict James Perry in the slayings of a mother, her quadriplegic son and his nurse in 1995, but that same conversation prompted his case to be thrown out in December.
Some state lawmakers say they don’t want to see that happen again.
Two bills pending in the Maryland General Assembly would allow communication between suspects in a criminal case to be used in court. The bills are designed to prevent another case from being overturned on the technicality used when the Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the conviction of James Perry in a 1993 murder-for-hire case.
In the Perry case, a key piece of evidence – a taped 22-second conversation between him and Lawrence Horn, who police say hired Perry as a hit man – was inadmissible because both parties needed to consent to the recording under Maryland law.
The prosecution argued that because Horn’s answering machine recorded the call in California, where the tape could have been used in court, it could be used in Maryland too. The Maryland high court disagreed.
“I think everyone would agree they wouldn’t want a murderer to walk free simply because that murderer hadn’t agreed to having his phone conversation taped by a co-conspirator,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery, referring to the Perry case.
Van Hollen’s bill allows prosecutors to use in court any communication they uncover related to any crime. However, the evidence could only be introduced at a criminal proceeding.
A bill introduced by Delegate Joseph Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s, is more specific, making several exceptions to the dual consent law. It allows the communication to be used in Maryland court if at least one part of it occurred in a state where the communication would be admissible in court. Vallario’s bill applies only to violent crimes and felonies.
Vallario said he doesn’t want to see another case overturned “on a stupid technicality.”
Neither bill alters current wiretap laws – law enforcement officers would still need court approval to listen in on a telephone call. If passed the legislation will not apply to the Perry case.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler said he supports the legislation, but it will only affect a very small number of cases. His office prosecuted the original case.
“How often is one party going to tape another criminal about that criminal enterprise?” he said.
The Montgomery County Circuit Court convicted James Perry of murder. Police charged that Horn, of California, hired Perry to kill his estranged wife, Mildred Horn, and quadriplegic son, Trevor, in Rockville so he could collect the boy’s $1.7 million trust fund. Perry was also charged with killing Janice Saunders, Trevor’s nurse. Horn was convicted of plotting the murders and is serving three life sentences.
Perry had been sentenced to die before the Maryland Court of Appeals in December overturned his conviction. Perry is being held without bond pending a new trial.