On the evening of July 22, 1995, 15-year-old Elyse Pahler left her home to hang out with three teenage boys, who had promised her drugs. Later that evening, the three, aged 14, 15 and 16, held her down, stabbed her and later had sex with her dead body.
For eight months, her body remained in the eucalyptus grove on the Nipomo Mesa where she was murdered. One of the boys, Royce Casey, then led authorities to her badly decomposed body.
The three boys later pleaded no contest and were sentenced to 26 years to life in prison for the murder.
The killing started when Jacob Delashmutt strangled her with a belt he slipped from his waist. Casey held her down while Joseph Fiorella pulled a hunting knife from a sheath and started plunging it into the girl's neck. It was Delashmutt's turn next, then Casey's.
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A forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on the girl's body concluded she was stabbed at least 12 times. None of the individual wounds were fatal, he testified, meaning she slowly bled to death.
Casey told investigators that Elyse Pahler cried out for her mother while being attacked. She "was on the ground praying to God and calling for her mom."
After she bled to death, they raped her corpse.
Casey said he, Fiorella and Delashmutt plotted Elyse Pahler's slaying for more than a month, talking about it often while playing "death metal" music in a band they called Hatred. The band was styled after a group called Slayer, whose albums feature lyrics about the devil and sacrificing virgins. Fiorella, according to Casey, had several books on Satanism.
"One of my specific questions (to Casey)," said one investigator, "was, 'Why?'" Casey answered "It was to receive power from the devil to help them play guitar better."
"By making this perfect sacrifice to the devil they would gain more craziness, or nuts, as he said," said an investigator, continuing to relate Casey's comments to him. "That would make them play harder, play faster. And by making this perfect sacrifice to the devil it might help them go, quote, professional."
Pahler's killing had been plotted once before, Casey said. Fiorella and Delashmutt and another teenager had earlier nearly carried out a plan to kill Elyse Pahler, according to Casey.
In a plot similar to that which led to the girl's death, Casey told investigators the trio enticed Pahler from her rural Arroyo Grande home and walked to a spot on the Mesa where there was a steep ravine. One of the boys pretended to slip down the ravine as a ruse to get Pahler to the bottom, the investigator said he was told. Fiorella then tossed Williams a knife — the same one used in her killing. The other teen, however, just stood there, Casey told the investigator, while Fiorella and Delashmutt "were saying, 'Do it, do it.' "
Casey said, "Elyse Pahler must have thought they were joking around and didn't report it."
Royce Casey told prosecutors the trio plotted to kill Pahler since "she had blond hair and blue eyes and because she was a virgin, she would be a perfect sacrifice for the devil."
According to investigators, Casey said he came forward partly because of new-found religious beliefs. But, he testified, Casey also believed Delashmutt and Fiorella planned to kill again. They told him "she wouldn't be the only one. There would be others." Casey feared he might be the next victim because he had tried to distance himself from them. A lyric from the band Slayer said, "If you're not with us, you may no longer exist."
A few years after the murder, Fiorella and Delashmutt told Entertainment Weekly that Slayer's music had nothing to do with the murder — and that the murder was not intended as a satanic sacrifice. But court records show that before his sentencing, Fiorella told a probation officer he had been influenced by Slayer's music. And, in his confession to investigators, Casey said the teens referred to themselves as Satan's children and had discussed killing Pahler in a devil worship ceremony.
The case garnered national attention after Pahler's parents filed a lawsuit against the band Slayer, which claimed the band's music incited the murder.
In 2001, in a ruling eagerly watched by the entertainment industry, a judge said lyrics written by the heavy metal band may have been offensive, but they did not incite three teens to murder.
"Slayer lyrics are repulsive and profane," Burke wrote in his 14-page decision. "But they do not direct or instruct listeners to commit the acts that resulted in the vicious torture-murder of Elyse Pahler."
Burke also ruled that the music is not harmful to children, as the plaintiffs alleged. Therefore, he added, it is not illegal to sell or market the product, and it is protected by the First Amendment.
The suit, filed in 1996, named Slayer and several record labels as defendants in seeking monetary damages and a halt to the practice of marketing violent music toward juveniles.
The case attracted national and international attention because of a potential impact on the entertainment industry and possible limitations of First Amendment rights.