SLAYER VS. THE AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEM

By Courtney Jerk

“I love you and I’m going to bed,” Elyse Pahler told her parents on the night of July 22, 1996. Not long after going to her room, she slipped unnoticed from the house, lured away by three teenage boys; two of whom she knew from riding the bus to school. Royce Casey (17 at the time), Jacob Delashmutt (15) and Joseph Fiorella (16) were in a band that they called “Hatred,”a death metal band that relied heavily on messages of necrophilia, the occult, and torture. The three boys were so into the band that they believed it had been formed with the sole purpose of glorifying Satan, and that by committing the ultimate crime against God–killing a virgin–they would earn themselves a one way ticket to Hell.

With the promise of weed presented to her, the blonde haired, blue eyed Elyse left her home and went with the three boys to a dense eucalyptus grove about a mile from her house called the Nipoma Mesa, an area that the boys believed was a naturally designated Devil’s Alter.

As the group sat around and smoked, Delashmutt stood up and walked behind Pahler. He removed his belt from his pants and wrapped it around her neck, pulling it taut. As she struggled, Casey held her hands down. Fiorella produced a 6 inch antler handled hunting knife and began repeatedly stabbing Pahler in the neck; after he was finished, he passed the blade to the others for their turns. Pahler lay bleeding on the ground, crying for help, while the boys stomped on the back of her neck to silence her. They then dragged her body to the edge of the grove by her feet, where she soon bled to death from the 12-15 stab wounds inflicted upon her. Casey later told investigators on the case that the boys had planned to have sex with the corpse, but decided not to go through with it; however, police and authorities believe that they did, as the girl’s legs were spread, and her genitals exposed, when the body was discovered. Pahler was considered a runaway after she disappeared. Lengthy and involved searches went on for several months with no sign of the girl.

“I’m fighting on the other side now,” Casey wrote in his journal three months after the murder. “Allied with the darkened souls, satans arised (sic) and shall conquer and reign… In the bible it says that in the end Lucifer will bring out his best in everything, music, love, murder… All the psycho serial killers and rapists don’t know that if they would just build an alter of sacrifice and kill the person on the alter and then [have repeated sex with] the corpse. Virgin meat is the ultimate sacrifice.”

In March, 1996, Casey–who had recently been attending church–went to the police and confessed to the crime. He told them that he was afraid his urge to kill might surface again, not to mention the fact that he was worried that he may be the next victim of Fiorella and Delashmutt. Casey led the authorities to the eucalyptus grove, where Pahler’s body lay rotting among the foliage. All three of the teens pleaded no contest to the murder charges against them, and are currently serving sentences of 25 years to life.

Pahler’s parents thought of her as a good child, with good grades, a pleasant personality, and a bright future ahead of her. “She was not a problem child. She was an independent girl who wanted to meet and know everyone in school,” said her father, David Pahler. Although she had snuck out of the house before, and had also tried marijuana on one other occasion, Pahler said that those incidents were no big deal. When several of Elyse’s fellow classmates were asked abouther, they said that she had tried drugs more than just a few times. She had been suspended for five days in junior high for drinking, and had attended a drug recovery center.

It was discovered during the court proceedings that the boys were all fans of Slayer. This quickly turned into a scenario that is now, unfortunately, all too familiar–throughout the eighties, it seemed the horns you commonly saw thrown up at metal shows around the world more appropriately represented those of a scape goat rather than a satanic entity.

Fiorella told police after the murder that Slayer “started to influence the way I looked at things.” The parents of Elyse Pahler reacted quickly on knowledge of the boys’ musical tastes, and filed a lawsuit against the band, claiming that Slayer, its label, producer Rick Rubin, and music retailers should all be held responsible for providing the teens with the material they needed to pull off their virgin sacrifice. “This case isn’t about art,” said Elyse’s father David Pahler. “It’s about marketing. Slayer and others in the industry have developed sophisticated strategies to sell death metal music to adolescent boys. They don’t care whether the violent, mysogynistic message in these lyrics causes children to do harmful things. They couldn’t care less what their fans did to our daughter. All they care about is money.”

Attorneys for Slayer and the related music companies said that the band’s work is protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. Family attorney Allen Hutkin argued, “this case has nothing to do with the First Amendment. It’s about protecting children. The Pahler family is not out to censor or to stop Slayer from making this music. They’re simply saying we don’t want them to market this stuff to kids without parents being involved in the decision about the kids getting to hear this stuff. They would like it to be off limits. …Just like a child can’t go to X-rated movies, they don’t want them to be able to buy X-rated music. Kids can’t go watch snuff films, but we’re giving them snuff music. People say not every kid who listens to Slayer turns into a killer. The reality is [that Slayer is] standing up at the top of the Empire State Building throwing golf balls off. They may not kill somebody with the first golf ball. They may not even kill somebody with the second golf ball or the third, but eventually they’re going to hit somebody on the head and kill them.”

Reaching the pinnacle of capitalism over the last thirty or so years, profitting from personal grief was a logical progression. So long as there has been provocative, strange, or controversial art, the respective authors have been blamed for the tragedies surrounding the lives of their patrons. It usually does not end favorably for the plaintiffs, however, as the First Amendment trumps most arguments that angry parents and relatives bring before the courts. The famous Judas Priest case, in which two teenagers entered a suicide pact because an album supposedly contained the subliminal message “do it,” was dismissed after it was discovered that the boys’ troubled backgrounds had more to do with the situation than the music they listened to. Ozzy Osbourne has been sued on several separate occasions. The first suit centered around similar suicide pact (three teenagers killed themselves while listening to his records), the second because of a boy that shot himself while listening to “Suicide Solution” (the alleged line “I tell you to end your life” was proven to be “I tell you to enjoy life”), and the third and fourth both being other suicide cases, one in which the albums were found at the scene of the crime; the other involved a boy telling his father that Osbourne had “the solution” before shooting himself. All of the cases were thrown out of the courts.

The three boys involved in the murder all seemed to be in agreement that Slayer was the driving force behind their actions, albeit in varying levels of seriousness. Delashmutt said, “It was harmless at first. We used to smoke weed, play guitar, kick it. I was just into heavy-metal music.” Fiorello was more serious about the idea. “It gets inside your head,” he told a police counselor a year after Pahler’s murder. “It’s almost embarrassing that I was so influenced by the music. The music started to influence the way I looked at things.” Almost as an afterthought in one interview, he added, “of course, I feel bad that she’s dead.” Delashmutt also said that one day Fiorella asked “if I’d be down for sacrificing a, whatever, a virgin. I didn’t take it seriously. I said ‘whatever’.”

Lawyers for the family hoped to use the argument that the music companies sold materials to minors knowing that the band’s violent images and lyrics were just a tool to sell records. The firm dealing with the case was Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, the same firm that won the court case stating that RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company had marketed the Joe Camel character to children. The lawsuit said, “The distribution and marketing of this obscene and harmful material to adolescent males constituted aiding and abetting of the criminal acts described in this complaint. None of the vicious crimes committed against Elyse Marie Pahler would have occurred without the intentional marketing strategy of the death-metal band Slayer.”

The 38 page claim also included pages of Slayer lyrics (specifically to the songs “Altar of Sacrifice,” “Kill Again,” “Tormentor” and “Necrophiliac”), photos, and liner notes, and background information on the boys involved, as well as cited civil rights violations against Elyse Pahler and negligent supervision charges against the parents of Delashmutt, Fiorella and Casey.

Slayer do not have much to say about the case. Back in 2001, drummer Paul Bostaph said, “They’re trying to blame the whole thing on us. That’s such nonsense. If you’re gonna do something stupid like that, you should get in trouble for it.” He also noted that the boys hadn’t even done the rituals that were outlined in the songs correctly, anyway. Singer Tom Araya quipped, “We’re part evil. If we were really evil, we would be doing everything we’re writing about.”

In the end, Judge E. Jeffrey Burke looked at the band’s lyrics and recordings and dismissed the claim, stating that it infringed on the band’s right to freedom of speech. “There’s not a legal position that could be taken that would make Slayer responsible for the girl’s death. Where do you draw the line? You might as well start looking through the library at every book on the shelf,” he said. He also added that “Slayer lyrics are repulsive and profane. But they do not direct or instruct listeners to commit the acts that resulted in the vicious torture-murder of Elyse Pahler.”

Judge Burke observed that the lyrics to the songs appeared to be more descriptive than instructive, as the family of Elyse Pahler had claimed. He advised the Pahler family to rework the claim and try submitting it again, which they did, two more times, without success.

“What are we talking about here?” David Pahler said at one point. “We have children ending their lives because the lyrics say they’re worthless. It’s about money. That’s the driving force. I can’t imagine the adults in the band, in the distribution end, really think this so-called music or the lyrics are good.” Elyse’s mother Lisanne added, “They have families of their own. Where’s their conscience?”

The Pahler family has since formed a non-profit organization “for the protection and welfare of children” that will supposedly educate the public about the dangers that “satanic” music presents, as well as help to develop computer software that will aid parents and law officials in finding missing children.