26 Years Later and Still No Justice for Elyse Pahler

The 1995 murder of Elyse Pahler attracted national media attention when her parents tried to sue the thrash metal band Slayer, claiming their music influenced her murderers to commit their heinous crimes. Nearly 26 years after her murder, her parents still haven’t received any money from the three men who killed their daughter.

Elyse Pahler / Elyse Pahler’s grandmother and parents / Slayer / Jospeh Fiorella.
Photo by Getty Images

For eight months, the Pahler family and investigators were beyond confused by their daughter’s disappearance before 17-year-old Royce Casey confessed to authorities. He threw the case wide open and led police to Elyse’s remains. They claimed she was a sacrifice to Satan to enhance their death metal playing. They almost didn’t get caught, and now they have the chance to walk free.

Lured by Three Teens

Elyse Pahler was a typical teenage girl. On the evening of July 22, 1995, she did what any teenage girl would have done; she left her home in Arroyo Grande, California, to meet friends at a nearby Eucalyptus field. They planned to smoke marijuana, and she decided to meet the three boys alone because they were people she knew from school.

Elyse Pahler smiling next to a mirror wearing a dress and a hat.
Source: Wikipedia

The three boys from her high school were Jacob Delashmutt, Joseph Fiorella, and Royce Casey. They were all around her age, and they played in a local heavy metal band. Elyse thought she was going to have a fun night with friends, but she was never seen alive again. Only the boys knew what happened in the grove that night, and they weren’t going to tell anyone.

Waiting Till She Was Relaxed

When Delashmutt, Fiorella, Casey, and Elyse arrived in the field, they started smoking. As Elyse began to relax, Casey held her down while Delashmutt strangled her with his belt, and Fiorella stabbed her in the neck with a hunting knife. They took turns stabbing her while she lay on the ground praying and calling out for her mom.

Elyse Pahler smiling next to a snowman.
Source: Facebook

After Elyse bled to death, the boys took turns sexually assaulting her body. Unfortunately, Elyse died slowly, she tried to fight, but they were too strong. A later autopsy showed that she didn’t die from the initial stab wounds or strangling. She was scared, in pain, and these boys were the last three faces Elyse saw before the end.

Sacrificing Her for Music

Delashmutt, Fiorella, and Casey were part of a local heavy metal band called Hatred, inspired by the famous band Slayer. In interviews, Casey said Slayer’s lyrics gave them the idea to find a blue-eyed, blond, innocent virgin to sacrifice as the ultimate sin. With this offering to the Devil, they believed they would have special powers to make them play music better and become famous.

Slayer posing at the Music File Photoshoot in 1980.
Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty Images

Slayer, a controversial band that rarely got any time on the radio, maintains a loyal and devoted following. Their shows are a rite of passage for headbangers, and the gigs feel dangerous with a thousand fans chanting “evil.” However, is the band really to blame because most of their fans haven’t committed murder? When the three boys were arrested, they accused Slayer, and so did Elyse’s parents.

After the Ritual Killing

After the boys killed Elyse as a sacrifice to Satan, they returned to the scene where her body was hidden to sexually assault her. When they were arrested, they admitted that they planned to kill her sooner but were too afraid. They didn’t carry out their plan until a few weeks after their first plan.

Royce Casey in court.
Source: The Tribune

Her family had no idea what happened to her, and with the help of law enforcement, they pursued leads across that country but came up with nothing for eight months. However, in March 1996, there was finally a break in the case when one of the boys couldn’t handle the guilt anymore. Casey needed to tell the truth, and he wasn’t going to let his friends get away with it.

Newfound Religious Beliefs Leads to a Break in the Case

In March 1996, Royce Casey decided to come forward because he had new-found religious beliefs. He thought his friends would kill again, and he feared that he would be their next victim because he tried to distance himself from them. A lyric from the band Slayer said, “If you are not with us, you may no longer exist,” so Casey had to do something before they came for him.

Kerry King of Slayer playing the guitar on stage.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Casey led officials to Elyse’s partially mummified remains in a Nipomo Mesa eucalyptus grove just a quarter mile from her house. He also told authorities that Delashmutt and Fiorella were involved, resulting in their arrests. When the investigator asked Casey why they did it, he said, “It was to receive power from the Devil to help them play guitar better.”

They Tried to Kill Her Once Before

Elyse’s killing had been plotted once before. Casey told the police that Fiorella, Delashmutt, and another teenager enticed Elyse from her home to a spot on the Mesa near a steep ravine. One of the boys pretended to slow down as a ruse to get her to come down. Fiorella then tossed the boy a knife, but he couldn’t go through with it.

Jacob Delashmutt, Joseph Fiorella, and Royce Casey’s mug shots.
Source: Pinterest

The boys at the top of the ravine were yelling, “do it, do it,” but he was frozen. Elyse was confused, but she thought they were joking and didn’t report it. After that, they continued to plot her murder because she was the perfect sacrifice. However, their story later changed about why they killed her.

Elyse’s Parents Sue Slayer

The Pahler family wanted someone to pay for their daughter’s murder, so they filed a lawsuit against the band Slayer in November 1996. The family said the band’s lyrics incited the three teens to kill, which is also what the boys said, and their songs gave instructions on how to torture, murder, and rape.

Elyse Pahler’s grandmother and her parents Lisanne and David speaking at a news conference.
Source: The Tribune

A judge threw out the case because there wasn’t a legal position that could be taken that would make Slayer responsible for the girl’s death. The judge said, “Where do you draw the line? You might as well start looking through the library at every book on the shelf.”

They Changed Their Story

While the three boys always had the same details of the murder, the reason they did it kept changing. At first, Casey said it was to sacrifice Elyse to the Devil so they could play music better. Then, Fiorella said it had nothing to do with Slayer’s lyrics or a satanic sacrifice.

Joseph Fiorella heading out of the courtroom.
Source: The Tribune

However, court records revealed that Fiorella told his probation officer that Slayer’s music inspired them. Also, in a confession, Casey said the teens referred to themselves as Satan’s children and they discussed killing Elyse in a Devil worship ceremony. None of it made sense, but the family wanted justice.

They Told People About Their Plot

During the investigation, at least two people came forward to say the boys told them about the crimes they committed, but most people brushed it off as a fake story. Investigators also noted that Fiorella’s mother told them her son said Casey had sex with the body.

Elyse’s grandmother sitting on a chair with Elyse’s picture by her side.
Source: The Tribune

Meanwhile, one of Delashmutt’s friends reported that he boasted about going back to visit the corpse to engage in inappropriate activities. The entire town was shaken by the reports they heard because they couldn’t believe this happened in their community. Elyse’s grandmother admitted that she couldn’t get over the crime.

The Trial Begins

In February 1997, the preliminary hearing began. Doug Odom, the District Attorney’s Office’s chief investigator, testified that Casey told him the trio plotted to kill Elyse because of how she looked, and it was the perfect sacrifice. The courtroom was mesmerized by his testimony and the details of the crime.

Jacob Delashmutt, Joseph Fiorella, and Royce Casey in court.
Source: The Tribune

What really shocked everyone was when Odom said that Casey recalled Elyse screaming for her mom. None of the stab wounds were fatal, so she bled to death while they tortured her. It was a gruesome recounting of the events that happened on July 22, 1995, and now everyone wanted to see these boys behind bars.

Fiorella Takes a Plea Deal

After just a month, Fiorella was sentenced by a Superior Court Judge to 26 years to life in prison as part of an agreement in which prosecutors dismissed other charges, including rape, in exchange for Fiorella’s guilty plea to first-degree murder.

Joseph Fiorella in court.
Source: YouTube

Elyse’s father addressed Fiorella in court during the hearing, and it broke everyone’s hearts. He said, “Joseph, it’s a parent’s worst fear and lifetime pain to outlive their child. It’s even worse knowing she was murdered and tortured as a virgin sacrifice on the altar of Satan so that you could earn a ticket to He**.”

Fiorella Denied Casey’s Version of the Story

In one of the probation reports, Fiorella denied Casey’s versions of the events that took place the night Elyse was murdered. He never denied that he was the first to stab her, though. He also said, “I wish it never happened. Since it happened, I always wish that God could bring her back to life.”

Elyse Pahler wearing a plaid shirt.
Source: YouTube

Fiorella talked about how her family must feel and said he never thought about hurting anyone. However, other reports said Fiorella was the one who obsessed over killing Elyse. No one knew what the truth was, but he only seemed very remorseful after he was sentenced.

Were the Claims Exaggerated?

While the details of the murder were gruesome beyond anything people could imagine, the story came straight from one of the murderers, Casey. He led investigators to Elyse’s body and told them the entire story of that evening, but Casey’s defense lawyer still said the allegations were “grossly overstated.”

Royce Elliot Casey in court.
Source: YouTube

His lawyers tried to change the public’s opinion even though Casey was the one who confessed. Unfortunately for Casey, he received 25 years to life in prison, but he avoided life without parole by pleading no contest. If he were tried as a juvenile, he would have only received seven years.

Delashmutt Is Sentenced

Like Casey, Delashmutt pleaded no contest to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 26 years to life, of which he would have to serve 85 percent of the term before being eligible for parole. He didn’t seem bothered throughout the entire case, even though he committed such horrible crimes.

Jacob’s mug shot.
Source: The Tribune

According to his co-defendants, Delashmutt was the one who went to visit the body repeatedly and did unspeakable things to Elyse after she died. He was also the one that said, “The music was destructive, but that’s not why Elyse was murdered. She was murdered because Fiorella was obsessed with her.”

Up for Parole

In July 2016, Casey had his first parole suitability hearing, but he was denied for another five years. His attorney admitted that Casey took part in one of California’s worst crimes, but after over two decades in prison, he is now clean-cut and has rehabilitated himself.

A recent head shot of Royce Casey.
Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

The following year, Delashmutt was also denied parole for seven years, and he won’t have another hearing until December 2024. When the Pahler family heard these men were trying to be released from prison, they were deeply saddened because they still hadn’t been paid for all the pain they went through.

The Pahlers Want to be Reimbursed

It is unimaginable to lose a child, and no one really knows the kind of pain and suffering the Pahlers endured. Her younger siblings were crushed, and her parents were too sad to even leave the house most days. They lost their home because they couldn’t go to work anymore.

David Pahler comforts his wife, Lisanne, after her emotional outburst in court.
Source: The Tribune

In 2017, the District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to reimburse the state Victim’s Compensation Board, which paid $34,871 to the Pahler family for funeral and counseling costs. The office also wanted additional restitution on the loss of wages to Elyse’s father, David Pahler.

Her Father Suffered PTSD

The mental anguish from his daughter’s murder went well past not being able to work. In 2014, Pahler was involved in a road rage incident that triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a police report, Pahler was cut off and followed the vehicle to a nearby parking lot.

David Pahler holding Elyse’s photo in his hands.
Source: The Tribune

Pahler then opened the person’s door and pulled the driver out by his shirt. He was charged with battery, which was ultimately dismissed. He received probation, a $500 fine, and was ordered to take anger management classes. He said his PTSD caused him to have anger issues, and who can blame him.

Elyse’s Father Forgives Casey

Because Casey was up for parole in 2021, the Pahler family was aware that one of their daughter’s killers might get out of jail. However, they took a forgiving stance on the prospect of Casey’s release. David Pahler said that Casey is suitable for parole and doesn’t pose a risk to public safety.

A photo of Elyse smiling at the camera.
Source: YouTube

Society will always be horrified about what Casey and the two other men did, understandably, but he has made amends and worked hard to change himself throughout the past two decades. The hearing was in March 2021, and Casey was nervous about the decision.

Casey Feels Immense Remorse for His Crimes

At his parole hearing in March, Casey told the commissioners that he tried to please people to protect himself in the past, but through various programs, he learned self-acceptance. His decision to portray an image of being violent got him into trouble, but he has changed.

A photo of Elyse Pahler smiling at the camera.
Source: YouTube

Casey understood how much pain Elyse must have felt, but he still carried on. Today he knows that nothing he says or does can bring her back, and he is ashamed of what he did. He said Elyse was a wonderful person, and it broke his heart how much she lost because of him.

The District Attorney Opposed Casey’s Release

In a letter to the parole community, the district attorney said Elyse’s murder was sadistic and that there was a sexual motive behind it because the defendants discussed killing a virgin. They also wrote that Casey had been relatively well behaved in prison, but the murder was not impulsive.

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow in his office.
Source: The Tribune

As the oldest of the three boys, Casey could have stopped the whole thing, and he never truly explained why he participated. Despite his reasonable efforts for rehabilitation, the DA questioned if he would appropriately handle rejection outside of prison when someone learns about his past. They concluded that there was still something cold about him.

Casey Testified Against Fiorella

Fiorella filed a habeas corpus petition to say he wasn’t mentally competent at the time of the murder and didn’t know what he was doing. However, Casey testified honestly that Fiorella did understand the nature of their crime. This was an opportunity for Casey to tell the truth and cement his value system.

Joseph Fiorella, 40, is seen in a 2018 inmate photo.
Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Casey’s attorney argued that his model behavior since 2001 and his promising post-release plans to become a substance abuse counselor could outweigh the gravity of the crime. Everyone said Casey is a changed person who accepts responsibility and wants to do something more with his life.

The Decision Is Made

In March 2021, Casey was granted parole by two California parole board commissioners. During the hearing, they mentioned Casey’s 20 years of good behavior, his participation in rehabilitation programs, mentoring, earning his GED, and studying for his bachelor’s degree. He also has plans to move to L.A. and work as a substance abuse counselor.

Attorney Dan Dow speaking to the media.
Source: YouTube

The parole board said, “We find that the person who committed that crime and the person who sits before us today are two different people.” Following the ruling, the state’s legal team had 120 days to review legal issues before going to the Governor’s desk.

Bad News for Casey

Although the board granted Casey parole, when Governor Gavin Newsom reviewed the case, he reversed the decision. The decision came after the District Attorney wrote a letter to the Governor to deny the parole because he felt the crimes were too brutal for parole to be an option right now.

A jar with her Elyse’s photo near the woods where her body was found.
Source: The Tribune

Casey was disappointed because he worked so hard to prove he is a changed person, and the parole board saw that. Even the Pahler family was at peace with his release. He will have to wait another few years to try for parole again. We don’t know what the right decision was, but it seems like he wants to do something positive with his life.

Will His Co-Defendants Have a Chance for Parole?

The other two men convicted of Elyse’s murder also have upcoming parole suitability hearings. For Delashmutt, it is scheduled in two years because he was denied at his previous hearing. It seems he has shown less remorse for the crimes than Casey.

Jacob Delashmutt’s inmate photo from 2015.
Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Fiorella’s hearing is also tentatively scheduled for July 2022 after he voluntarily waived his right to a hearing for one year. Some people get accustomed to their lives in prison because they don’t have a plan for life when they are released.

Did “Death Metal” Incite Murder?

While the boys’ urge to stab and stomp Elyse has always been a mystery, her parents were convinced that violent music was to blame. They went as far as filing a lawsuit against Slayer and other companies distributing their music. Although the case fell through, were they on to something.

eff Hanneman and Kerry King of Slayer perform on stage.
Photo by Joey Foley/Getty Images

The lawyers in their case used a rationale similar to the one used against a tobacco company for marketing Joe Camel to children: the music companies sold harmful materials to minors. They did so knowing that the music’s philosophy of violence was merely a ploy to sell albums.

Is Marketing to Blame?

While bands like Slayer have the First Amendment to protect them, it is reasonable to look at the issue of marketing and minors. Although Slayer’s lyrics are protected by free speech, the case worried record labels like Def Jam Music and Columbia Records.

Photo of Kerry King and Tom Araya of Slayer.
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

Some believe the vicious crimes against Elyse wouldn’t have been committed without the intentional marketing strategy of the band Slayer, with lyrics about murder, sexual assault, and necrophilia. Maybe the case would have proceeded in today’s cultural climate, but it was turned down back then.

Slayer Flaunted the Accusations

During the lawsuit, Slayer flaunted the accusations of a link between their violent lyrics and violent acts. They didn’t mind the negative attention and in one of their albums, they featured images of newspaper clippings with other stories of violence related to music lyrics.

Johan Hegg and Kerry King posing for a photoshoot for Metal Hammer magazine.
Photo by Rob Monk/Metal Hammer Magazine/Getty Images

There have been many cases of people suing bands or artists after a loved one is killed because they want someone to blame besides the killers. In one instance, Metallica was sued by a woman whose husband was murdered, and she thought their lyrics were to blame.

The Boys Were Part of the Slayer Cult Following

The boys in the Pahler case were huge fans of the band, and they created their own band because of Slayer. In an interview from jail, Delashmutt said their lives were dominated by drugs, including marijuana, meth, LSD, and death metal music.

Members of Slayer looking at the camera.
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

Delashmutt said it was harmless at first because they were just having fun and making music. However, he said Fiorella studied the Slayer lyrics as if they had a much deeper meaning. Fiorella once admitted that it was embarrassing how influenced he was by their music. It went from daydreaming to action.

Slayer Commented on the Accusations

In interviews, the four members of Slayer have denied that their music is anything but fantasy. The lead vocalist said, “We’re part-time evil. If we were really evil, we would be doing everything we were writing about.” According to the people who work with them, their public image is just an act, and they are actually very nice.

A photo of Slayer holding their guitars.
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

When the group was asked about the Elyse Pahler murder, they said, “They’re trying to blame the whole thing on us.” They also said it was wrong, and the people who committed the murders are the ones to blame, not them. Slayer refused to talk about the murder anymore after that.

Slayer’s Comments Infuriated the Pahlers

After hearing Slayer’s comments, Elyse’s parents were angry because they truly believed the music influenced the boys to kill their daughter. Elyse’s father said, “What are we talking about here? We have children ending their lives because lyrics say they’re worthless, and boys taking Elyse’s life all for money.”

Kerry King and Tom Araya of Slayer performs live onstage.
Photo by Joey Foley/Getty Images

The Pahlers have struggled to go on with their lives. They moved their home because it reminded them too much of the murder, and her father switched careers after losing interest in his contracting company. Her younger three siblings also struggled because they no longer had privacy.

The Killers Were All Troubled

Casey, Delashmutt, and Fiorella were all troubled teens. Casey had been expelled from school, so he had to attend a continuation school. Fiorella was also being homeschooled after having problems at the public high school. Delashmutt was also expelled from school for drug possession and swearing at teachers.

Jacob Delashmutt, then 17, in court.
Source: The Tribune

Although they were troubled teens, Delashmutt’s father was shocked by the accusations and couldn’t believe his son was involved in something so violent. His family has since moved away from the town, and they declared bankruptcy. The rest of the town was angry with the three boys and their families bore the brunt of it.

Her Father Felt Like He Could Have Saved Her

Although the boys murdered Elyse a quarter mile from her home, her father still feels like he could have saved her. On the evening of her murder, Elyse and her family were watching a movie together when she got a phone call. After she hung up, she abruptly said she was going to bed and went to her room.

Elyse Pahler wearing a striped uniform and smiling at the camera.
Source: The Tribune

She ended up sneaking out that night to meet the three boys. However, her father feels like he should have known she wasn’t going to sleep. He said when he looked in her eyes that night, he knew something wasn’t right. He has said he should have gone to the back door and made sure she was still in her room.

Her Murder Inspired a Movie

The movie Jennifer’s Body starring Meghan Fox is about a girl possessed by a powerful demon after a rock band tries and fails to sacrifice her to Satan. She then comes back to life to prey on her male classmates while her friend tries to stop the bloody rampage. The 2009 film was actually inspired by Elyse’s murder.

Megan Fox in Jennifer’s body wearing a blood-stained dress.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/Copyright by Fox Atomic

The 1995 murder bears a striking resemblance to the plot of the movie, other than her coming back to haunt her male classmates. Although the film became a cult classic, many people criticized Fox’s performance as she was only seen as a pin-up girl and not a great actress.

Supernatural Education

Fiorella admitted that he was one of the first out of the group who hinted at supernatural practices with his friends. When he realized they were, he shared his thoughts. Although he was the youngest, he had the most knowledge on the subject, and he became the leader of the operation.

A magic lantern display showing skulls and a hovering devil.
P Photo by Kean Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images

After becoming the leader of the group, Fiorella continued his education in all things about Satan and supernatural topics. He researched everything about Satan and Satanism, and they started communication online with other people who shared their beliefs. They started breaking into graveyards to look at graves to rob.

Casey Struggled With These Beliefs

Even before he converted to Christianity, Casey struggled with the beliefs of the group. After the murder, he started writing in a journal and often wrote about how he was fighting with “the other side.” Casey wrote about how Satan had arisen and was reigning overall. He also said killers should sacrifice virgin meat to their dark lord.

Dan Dow’s statement regarding Casey’s state of mind.
Source: YouTube

Three months after the murder, Casey wrote, “I’m fighting on the other side now. Allied with the darkened souls. Satan’s raised 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. “ He was clearly disturbed, and no one understood.

Delashmutt Changed His Motives

Time always has a way of changing people’s minds and opinions. When killers give their crimes some thought after sitting in jail, they usually revise their motives. In Delashmutt’s case, he had a complete change of heart about what pushed him to murder an innocent girl.

Tom Araya of Slayer performing on stage.
Photo by Niels van Iperen/Getty Images

Before the trial, he agreed Slayer’s lyrics pushed them to commit a crime. However, after a few years in prison, he was pointing the blame at someone else. He turned the whole thing on Fiorella and his obsession with Elyse. None of them had a good explanation for why they did it.

The Real Thing That Embarrassed Them

The real thing they were embarrassed about was the reason they really committed the crimes. They wanted to get the perfect girl to lie there without rejecting them. They weren’t the most usual teens and getting girls to hang out with them wasn’t easy.

An up-close shot of crime scene tapes.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

They wanted a girl who wouldn’t refuse them and give them what they wanted. The boys thought a corpse could give them what they wanted, so they killed Elyse for sex, not mad guitar skills. Fiorella also admitted that he might have just wanted to kill, and it had nothing to do with music.

They Never Thought Drugs Were the Problem

It’s interesting how Casey, Fiorella, and Delashmutt never blamed any of the drugs they were taking. While drugs don’t cause people to commit crimes on their own, the acid they were taking could have altered their reality. Drugs including meth and acid coupled with death metal music didn’t help their mental states.

Tom Araya of Slayer performs at the 2012 Rockstar energy drink Mayhem Festival.
Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images

If you look at the lyrics of one of Slayer’s songs called “213,” it describes the cause of Elyse’s murder better than any other. The lyrics say, “Erotic sensations tingle my spine . . . A dead body lying next to mine . . . Smooth blue-black lips . . . I start salivating as we kiss . . . Mine forever this sweet death . . .” It continues with “How I love to kill you.”