Nearly 22 years after three teens killed 15-year-old Arroyo Grande resident Elyse Pahler in a gruesome Satanic ritual, the District Attorney’s Office is attempting to recover money for the victim’s family, which continues to suffer from the crime.
The 1995 killing attracted national media attention for its brutal and disturbing nature, as well as an unsuccessful attempt by the Pahler family to sue the heavy metal band Slayer, whose music was cited as an inspiration for the murder.
The three men convicted of first-degree murder — Royce Casey, Jacob Delashmutt and Joseph Fiorella, who were between the ages of 14 and 16 at the time — have been serving their respective 25- and 26-years-to-life sentences at separate facilities in Southern and Central California.
In July 1995, the trio lured Pahler to a eucalyptus grove on the Nipomo Mesa and strangled, stabbed and stomped her, then left her to bleed to death. After she died, the boys took turns having sex with her corpse, according to Tribune archives.
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They had plotted the slaying while practicing in their metal band, in order “to receive power from the devil to help them play guitar better.” Casey, who later led authorities to Pahler’s body, told prosecutors the teens killed her because “she had blond hair and blue eyes and, because she was a virgin, she would be a perfect sacrifice for the devil.”
They were convicted separately in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in 1997.
On March 21, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to reimburse the state Victim’s Compensation Board, which has paid $34,871 to the Pahler family for funeral costs and counseling. The office also seeks to determine additional restitution based on loss of wages to Pahler’s father, David Pahler.
Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham on Tuesday said that, in the late 1990s, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was not collecting restitution in life sentence cases. Though restitution was included in the sentences of Casey and Delashmutt, it was not included for Fiorella, the youngest of the three. Restitution has not been collected from any of them.
Although (the defendants) received prison sentences ranging from 25 years to life, it did little to ease the horror of what they’d done.
David Pahler, father of Elyse Pahler
According to the motion, a state appellate ruling from late 1997 ordered that sentences for crimes involving injury to a victim must include an order of restitution, and, if omitted, the sentence must be modified.
“Legally, times have changed since the sentencing of these three defendants, and they’ve changed in a way that gives us more hope in recovery from the defendants while they are serving their life sentences,” Cunningham said.
A restitution hearing scheduled for Monday was continued to July 25.
In a court declaration in February, David Pahler wrote that he was unable to work between 1995 and 1998, and was forced to seek mental health counseling.
“For many months we suffered through the nightmare of not knowing what happened to (Elyse),” Pahler wrote. “When her body was finally discovered, I learned that she had been barbarically murdered, and I was consumed with grief.
“Although (the defendants) received prison sentences ranging from 25 years to life, it did little to ease the horror of what they’d done. The pain of losing my daughter and knowing she suffered will never leave me,” he wrote.
Pahler said that prior to his daughter’s murder, he was making between $75,000 to $120,000 a year as a general contractor. Following the murder, David Pahler was unable to keep working and lost out on $520,000 in profits from a project he had been hired to work on, he said. Unable to earn income, Pahler wrote that he went on welfare and the family lost their home.
The mental anguish from his daughter’s murder continues to plague Pahler. In 2014, he was involved in a road rage incident he said was spurred by his post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a police report, Pahler was cut off in traffic and followed the vehicle into a nearby parking lot, where he allegedly opened the car’s door and pulled the driver out by his shirt.
He was charged with battery, which was ultimately dismissed, and pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vandalism. He received probation, a $500 fine and was ordered to take anger management classes. He told The Tribune at the time that his PTSD caused him to have anger issues.
Casey, Delashmutt and Fiorella are serving their sentences at separate prisons: Casey at RJ Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego; Fiorella at High Desert State Prison in Susanville; and Delashmutt at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad.
Casey was denied parole at his first hearing in July 2016 and will go before the board again in 2021, according to the Department of Corrections. Fiorella is up for parole no later than June 2020, and parole information for Delashmutt was not available Tuesday.