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Kingdom of Fear

Last Updated: September 30, 2007 7:53 PM

The JUDAS PRIEST Trial: 15 Years Later - July 1, 2005
Lenita Powers of the Reno Gazette-Journal has issued the following report:

Fifteen years ago, Reno became the focus of a high-profile lawsuit that charged the British heavy metal group JUDAS PRIEST with hiding subliminal messages in its music that led to the deaths of two fans.

As JUDAS PRIEST returns to perform tonight in Reno, those who took part in a courtroom drama that became the focus of international attention recalled the complex case that still generates calls from law students.

Other lawsuits at that time sought damages because of violent lyrics in music, but the JUDAS PRIEST case was one of the first to claim that subliminal messages hidden behind those lyrics caused the deaths of two young men.

"It was the first time there had been a judicial determination of whether subliminal messages were or were not protected speech under the First Amendment," former Washoe District Judge Jerry Whitehead said this week.

Whitehead, who heard the case after the lawyers agreed not to have the civil suit decided by a jury, ruled it was not.

"Because speech is basically the expression of thoughts and ideas that a person can reflect upon and accept or reject, but a subliminal message is a surreptitious attempt to influence the subconscious and, therefore, is not something you could reflect upon and accept or reject," he said.

His final decision: There was no conclusive evidence of subliminal messages, Whitehead dismissed the case against JUDAS PRIEST and its record company, CBS, in 1990.

The gruesome incident that gave rise to the case took place five years before the trial.

On Dec. 23, 1985, after an afternoon spent drinking beer, smoking marijuana and allegedly listening to music by JUDAS PRIEST for several hours, Raymond Belknap, 18, and his friend, James Vance, 20, went to a church playground in Sparks. There, Belknap put a 12-gauge shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger, dying instantly. Vance tried to follow suit but, possibly because the weapon was slippery with blood, the shot blew away the lower half of his face. He survived, his face severely deformed.

Vance underwent more than 140 hours of surgery and lived in constant pain. Three years later, he slipped into a coma and died before the trial began, but not before he gave his version of what happened the day he and Belknap made their suicide pact.

"It was like a self-destruct that went off," he told a Reno Gazette-Journal reporter. "We had been programmed. I knew I was going to do it. I was afraid. I didn't want to die. It was just as if I had no choice."

At the time of his death, Vance left a 1-year-old daughter.

Members of Vance and Belknap's families could not be reached for comment this week.

At the heart of the lawsuit filed against the band was the claim that their "Stained Class" album's songs contained messages that, when played backwards, said "try suicide" and "let's be dead." Lawyers said it was the song "Better By You, Better Than Me" with its subliminal command of "do it, do it, do it" that pushed the two men over the line to end their troubled lives.

Lawyers on both sides trotted out audio experts who supported or debunked the existence of hidden messages in the songs.

Testifying for the defense was Anthony Pellicano, who previously analyzed the infamous 18-minute gap on President Richard Nixon's secret tapes of conversations in the White House. The private investigator to Hollywood stars and their lawyers more recently became the subject of an FBI probe for using illegal wiretaps and also was sentenced in 2003 to 30 months in federal prison for the illegally possessing hand grenades and the plastic explosive C-4.

"Our expert reverse-engineered the songs and said they were packed with subliminals in the lyrics," said Timothy Post, who represented Vance's estate. "(The defense) had Anthony Pellicano, who came in with his $2,000 suit and Italian loafers and he said, ‘No, that's just breath exhalation that sounds like the words do it,' and Whitehead bought it."

Post said he often heard people complain that it was ridiculous to blame JUDAS PRIEST and CBS for Belknap and Vance's decision to kill themselves.

"We weren't saying the band was some kind of Svengali who hypnotized them into doing this, but these two boys were in the suicide zone," Post said. "We never said they were Presbyterian Sunday school teachers, but they were up on the bridge teetering and JUDAS PRIEST said 'jump.' This was a product liability case, and they were putting hidden poison in their product."

Suellen Fulstone, the Reno lawyer who represented JUDAS PRIEST and CBS, said Belknap and Vance clearly were troubled young men, and it was the group's music that resulted in their deaths.

"I remember one of the terms I learned in the course of trying this case was the term 'dysfunctional family,'" she said.

The band, according to Fulstone, "felt bad for the family, but didn't feel they were in any way responsible for what happened."

Read the rest of the article at
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COMMENT | I thought the first guy put the gun in his mouth...
posted by : Brain Dead
7/1/2005 12:25:00 PM

that's why he succeeded.

I saw a documentary about this and they played the bit from Better Than You Better By Me that was supposed to say 'do it' and it was just ridiculous, no way did would Priest have bothered to put such an obscure phrase in a song and then make it totally unhearable. I think they did have some backwards masking at the end of one song from Defenders that said something like "I fancied a mint so she went and got me one"

posted by : metalrichard
7/1/2005 12:34:04 PM

are gods!

posted by : Jaymz13
7/1/2005 12:49:47 PM

Only in America are lawsuits like this possible to happen. That country are full of hypocrites

COMMENT | priest comment
posted by : coomes
7/1/2005 12:52:49 PM

that whole thing about subliminal messages is bullshit i love judas priest and evn if they did put messages in there songs (which they didnt!) those kids would have had to be insane to even do that crazy shit -those kids wanted an excuse to kill themselves

posted by : Coalition Against Overuse Of "LOL"
7/1/2005 1:01:11 PM

The lack of basis for this case does NOT rule out the possibility that subliminals are being used by wealthy ad agencies to influence millions.

Not "do it"


COMMENT | Believe it or not...
posted by : metaladdict666
7/1/2005 1:01:20 PM

My oldest son's mom went to Reed H.S. with both of these guys. I actually met James Vance in the hospital about 2 months after this happened when we went to visit him, & sadly what he wrote down on a piece of paper was not about JP "flicking the switch" that lead to this, on the contrary he said that is what his mom thought. At the time I thought nothing of it because he was notin anyway blaming the band. & when I found out about the suit I wish I had gotten a hold of that paper. I think when you watch the documentery you can see his mom being very over the top about JP doing this, & less candid about the family issues that did exist at the time. it is a very sad thing that happened.
In the end JP were exhonorated of the charges. & I'll be seeing them tonight in Reno, this will be the 2nd time they have played here since the trial.
I have 4 kids & if they ever did something like this I would be asking myself 1st what I or my wife might have done wrong, not looking for a Scapegoat.

posted by : lowspec42
7/1/2005 1:07:54 PM

blame suicides on subliminal messages - now that's constructive

posted by : RiotAct666
7/1/2005 1:12:17 PM


COMMENT | There is a good Documentary on this
posted by : Lockfist
7/1/2005 1:17:58 PM

It's called "Dream Deceivers" you should try and find it if you can. They follow around a group of Priest fans in Reno and follow the case. Also interview the surviving victim of this tragedy. As Metal Church says "People in glass houses should not be throwing stones. A sticker on a record won't give your kid a home".

COMMENT | Its very sad,
posted by : kutulu
7/1/2005 1:36:00 PM

but I remember being confused at the time, because there I was listening to Slayer, Exodus, Venom, etc. back in 85, and these guys made this decision over a Judas Priest song??? Priest stuff was pretty tame back then, and is now compared to whats being put out these days. Then, the phrase "Do it" could mean a thousand different things. I am pretty sure this tragedy hinged on some other heavier family related issues than lets get drunk, smoke some weed, and blow our heads off on a whim. Its a shame, I didn't know he had a kid too at the time. Very sad.

COMMENT | metaladdict666...
posted by : Western Filet
7/1/2005 1:46:11 PM right on. Blame the parents for what the kids did, not some made-up message based on Rob's breathing technique.

I'm seeing JP in 6 days and can't wait! Priest rules.

COMMENT | Dream Deceivers
posted by : metaladdict666
7/1/2005 2:25:36 PM

Is selling for $390.00!!!!
I can't believe it...& on VHS no less?

posted by : 69SS350
7/1/2005 2:26:10 PM

Lemmy said it best when VH-1 was covering this story in one of their "metal moments" countdowns. He said something to the effect that - " if this subliminal crap existed and really worked -
the streets would be littered with corpses".
Thank God for the Metal Gods !!

COMMENT | Lesson learned:
posted by : hurricane hugo
7/1/2005 2:29:20 PM

Remember, kids- if you're gonna kill yourselves, DON'T FUCK IT UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

blessed be.

COMMENT | A tragedy
posted by : Viking Christ
7/1/2005 2:30:46 PM

but not the fault of a rock band. The blame lies directly with the 2 victims in this case. They made the decision to do it. Its a very sad situation made worse by people looking to place the blame everywhere else.

COMMENT | Let me get this straight
posted by : Third Arm
7/1/2005 2:53:14 PM

They were drunk and high but the music made them do it? Right? Anybody?

COMMENT | whatever
posted by : eddie666
7/1/2005 2:59:46 PM

only three things contributed to these dumasses dying -------------

"Drunken American with a gun"

'nuff said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

COMMENT | Oh Yeah,
posted by : eddie666
7/1/2005 3:05:27 PM

the three things (for all you idiots out there)
1. American
2. Alcohol
3. Gun

posted by : 69SS350
7/1/2005 3:06:39 PM

F, is for fighting, R, is for red.
Ancestors' blood in battles they've shed.
E, we elect them, E, we eject them.
In the land of the free, and the home of the brave
D, for dying, O, your overture
M, they will cover your grave with manure.
This spells out freedom, it means nothing to me,
As long as there's a P.M.R.C.

posted by : Storm King
7/1/2005 3:41:16 PM

What always amuses me about the story is the fact that the song in question is in fact a cover, and in fact was added to Stained Class very late in the process because the label thought a cover would have possibilities as a single, and it was so late that the band couldn't use the original producer to record it. I doubt under those circumstances they'd go to the trouble of adding subliminal messages to it...and even if they did, why would they add them to a song that they were reluctant to put on the album anyway? Wouldn't you add it to something you KNEW was going on the album in the first place, rather than sticking it into the label mandated after the fact single?

And yeah-if there are subliminals (and "do it" is pretty vague; one could just as easily go out and masturbate, or mow the lawn, or buy a Pepsi depending on what was on their mind; it didn't say "Go get a shotgun and kill yourself") wouldn't hundreds of people have died? And since Stained Class came out in 1978, why did it take so long for someone to be effected?

I'm reminded of the story about Ozzy and "Suicide Solution", and the lawyer in that case, to this day, insists that when Ozzy sings something that sounds like "blargh blargh itcha graah graah", a random vocal ad lib, he was actually singing "get the gun get the gun, shoot shoot shoot!"

Only in America...

COMMENT | The Lawyer in Ozzy's case....
posted by : metaladdict666
7/1/2005 4:01:32 PM

Cracks me the fuck up!

When I read Storm Kings' post & the line...
"get the gun get the gun, shoot shoot shoot!"

I thought about the clip & how comical that idiot looked.
I still can't believe this guy takes himself seriously, what a Fucktard!

Welcome back to Reno...THE MIGHTY PRIEST!!!!

COMMENT | Oh yeah ...
posted by : metaladdict666
7/1/2005 4:03:35 PM

The lawyer that represented the family in the JP case still thinks he was right...

Another Fucktard!

COMMENT | I hear
posted by : FSRleader
7/1/2005 4:55:08 PM

a lot of shit in music when I'm high, doesn't mean it's all real!

COMMENT | Too bad that modern psychology...
posted by : stickyshooZ
7/1/2005 5:22:05 PM

...has proven that 'subliminal messages' don't work.

COMMENT | Bill Hicks said it best.....
posted by : wilsondandragon
7/1/2005 5:26:20 PM

"What fucking rock band in their right mind wants to kill their audience!!!!"

Yes please kill yourself so you can't buy our CD's or make us any more money.

"I'm tired of all the free drugs, booze, hookers and piles of cash.....I got it.. Let's kill our audience!!!"

COMMENT | I wonder...
posted by : twisty
7/1/2005 8:14:00 PM many lives Judas Priest music actually saved? Those who WERE going to blow their brains out but then played a JP album and changed their mind because they were inspired by the music.

posted by : bill
7/1/2005 8:29:25 PM

death metal it fucking rules more death metal more blast beats.. please.

*drum solo*

COMMENT | Reverse Speech
posted by : MisterRogers
7/2/2005 12:25:52 AM

is a phenomenon that occours naturally in language-check out:
listen to some of the examples-all recorded in "real time"-there's even an example from the Priest trial

Sure, sometimes bands might add stuff into the mix, but once you read about reverse speech you'll realise that it just happens-sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn't

I think it is just the reverse speech phenomenon taking place here.

If more stupid people would take their own lives, the world would be a better place!

COMMENT | hypocrisy!!!
posted by : Sellarvein89
7/2/2005 12:31:28 AM

People always want something to blame. First its lyrics in music affecting their children. Violence in movies, swearing in movies, sex on television, bullshit like that. Its just stupid. And now its subliminal messages in Judas Priest songs, give me a break, anyone that listens to songs played backwards and takes it seriously must be totally fucked up in the head. And thats the truth!!!

posted by : Dutchguy
7/2/2005 2:57:01 AM

I saw the Dream Deceivers documentary a few years ago. If the subject wasn't so sad, it would make great comedy.
Rob Halford testified that they played the entire album backwards in the studio and they heard stuff like "I asked for a peppermint, I asked her for one" and "Look ma, a chair". And why would you put "do it" or "kill yourself" on the record? If JP wanted to put some backwards masking on the album, they would have said "Buy more records".

Bill Hicks had a fantastic piece about this in one of his shows. "Oh, 'ang on Nigel. I'm sick an' tired of this rockstar shit. I could do without the groupies and the sex and the touring and the records. I know.... let's KILL THE AUDIENCE with our records. That'll work!"

COMMENT | Come on
posted by : ffuckyou
7/2/2005 3:19:36 AM

when played backwards, said "try suicide" and "let's be dead.
Yeah right.
These kids were fucked from go.
Try looking for some blame closer to home.
I listen to this music to clean my head not clean it off.

COMMENT | That kid had a 1-year old daughter???
posted by : mrrager
7/2/2005 4:16:51 AM

Wow, he was still getting laid even after blowing half of his face off.

posted by : CronosWarchild
7/2/2005 5:11:21 AM

That is amazing. He looked like Predator with the mask off...

COMMENT | Yeah, a Megadeth reference!
7/2/2005 5:32:44 AM

I fucking love that song and everything it stands for, Hook in Mouth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dude, gotta feel bad for someone who feels so bad they take their own life but damn, if you blow off half of your face and live, suck it up and tell the truth about why you and your friend did it. Don't scramble with your obviously fucked up mommy for the easy cash. Man, I still can't believe this made it to a real court of law, (If that is what you want to call it in Sparks, Nevada)

COMMENT | Strange!!!
posted by : Warchief
7/4/2005 3:34:31 AM

I heard someone say back then that they heard subliminal messages saying, be a tinker bell.I thought he was crazy at the time!!!

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