Even confined to a prison cell where he’s likely to spend the rest of his life, it turns out Perry March still is capable of furthering the “brutality and destruction” his in-laws say started a decade ago when he bludgeoned their daughter to death.
After 10 agonizing years of seeking justice, it seemed Lawrence and Carolyn Levine finally were moving on with their lives after March was sentenced last month to 56 years in prison for murdering their daughter and subsequently attempting to have them assassinated. But now the Levines find themselves embroiled in yet another battle with March, this time in a desperate pursuit to retain custody of their grandchildren.
Armed with a keen knowledge of the law, March (a longtime attorney who ultimately was disbarred) has filed another in a string of lawsuits from jail, this time in an attempt to remove his two children from the Levines’ care and send them to live with his second wife in Ajijic, Mexico, where he embarked on a new life after the 1996 murder of Janet Levine March.
The prospect of losing custody has prompted a response from the Levines that’s impassioned, poignant and, at times, disturbingly graphic. Since their daughter’s death, the Levines typically have shied away from voicing their outrage, but recently filed court papers provide a rare and haunting glimpse into what they have endured. In the end, they suggest this is simply another calculated move made by a murderous sociopath intent on inflicting pain.
“Janet was murdered when she asked petitioner for a divorce and he responded by bashing her head in with a wrench,” Lawrence Levine writes in the Sept. 29 filing, adding that before her death their daughter asked them to care for the children if anything ever happened to her. “We are trying our best to honor the wishes of our daughter and the needs of our grandchildren, rather than the whims of her murderer and their mother’s killer. We truly do not wish to spend any more time or money on the man we once treated like a son who then murdered our daughter and dedicated his life to torturing us and his children.”
In a 32-page handwritten petition filed last month in federal court, March accuses the Levines of manipulating the legal system, first to gain visitation rights with their grandchildren, and ultimately to win custody of Tzipora, 12, and Samson, 16. March calls the Levines “heartless” and “selfish” for keeping his children in Nashville, where he says the mystery of their mother’s disappearance and “scurrilous” media coverage that’s followed have created an intolerable situation for them. Citing Mexican law, he suggests the children should instead reside with his wife, Carmen Rojas March, and their half-sister in the remote Mexican fishing village where they’ve lived off and on—“as a loving nuclear family”—since the summer of 1999. Or, if the judge deems it more appropriate, he asks that the children be placed in the custody of his brother and sister in Chicago.
Up until the murder, March worked as an attorney at the same law firm where his father-in-law practiced for years as a partner. Both parties are representing themselves in the lawsuit.
“I think it would be very doubtful that March can be successful in any future lawsuit to remove the children,” says Helen Sfikas Rogers, a Nashville lawyer who specializes in family law. “The courts always look at continuity of placement—that is, they will not keep moving the children around. The children are doing well in their current school, have friends and family here. Those are huge factors that March cannot overcome.”
And while experts say it’s unlikely his petition will be granted, the fight alone is undoubtedly prolonging the Levines’ grief.
In his response to the court, Lawrence Levine refutes, one by one, the arguments outlined in March’s petition. First, he speaks of the sheer malice of the lawsuit, in which he says “petitioner—having successfully murdered the mother of his children and attempted to kill their grandparents as well—actually complains (unaware of the bitter irony) that his children should not have to live in a community ‘sensationalized’ by the very murders he committed.… This seems the very definition of malice to me.”
Secondly, Levine suggests that neither he nor his wife were ever officially served with the lawsuit at their West Meade home. In fact, the Levines first learned they were being sued after reading about it in TheTennessean. “Petitioner is well aware of the location of our house.… Less than a year ago, petitioner gave explicit detailed directions on how to find our house to the hit man with whom he plotted to kill us. Surely, if petitioner could find our abode for the purpose of murdering us, he could also find it to serve us.”
After Janet March disappeared, the Levines worked tirelessly to prove Perry March was to blame. They won favorable judgments in two wrongful death civil suits that determined Perry March was culpable for his wife’s death. The first judgment, however, was overturned. A short time after the second judgment, March was indicted in Davidson County for second-degree murder, apprehended in Mexico and returned to Nashville. While awaiting trial, Perry March, with the help of his father, Arthur March, hired a hit man to kill the Levines.
“The plan was to shoot Carolyn and myself and leave our corpses for Samson and Tzipora to find when they came home from school,” the Levines recount in court papers. “Fortunately for us and for our grandchildren, the plan did not succeed when the planned hit man notified the authorities.”
Levine goes on in court filings to question his former son-in-law’s claim that he’s now indigent, a status that precludes him from having to pay court costs associated with the child custody suit. The judge could dismiss the lawsuit if it’s revealed that March’s claim is false. Among the evidence cited by Levine is an affidavit from Metro Police Detective Bill Pridemore, who monitored recent phone calls between March and his wife, during which March tells her not to worry about finances. Levine also points to March’s line of work while living in Mexico, which involved counseling clients in “asset protection and off-shore havens,” a business venture detailed in an Aug. 25, 2005, Nashville Scene article (“When Perry Lived in Paradise”).
As for the international and Mexican law that March cites, Levine argues he relies on “an incomplete, unauthenticated, untranslated Spanish document” that is merely an “easy-to-obtain Mexican injunction.”
Because Samson recently turned 16, Levine argues that the court has no jurisdiction over him in this matter. As for Tzipora, he says she is settled in Nashville where she’s surrounded by friends and family, and looking forward to celebrating her bat mitzvah next year. Although he’s confident she is capable of telling the court she does not wish to leave, he will do everything he can to ensure it doesn’t come to that. But the Levines say if they are forced to subject the children to court proceedings, “Tzipora will need psychological preparation, as she is just now adjusting to the definitive knowledge that her father killed their mother.”