Nev. Supreme Court hears Priest case

The Nevada Supreme Court seemed unconvinced Wednesday by arguments that alleged suicide messages on an album by a British rock group could have caused two Sparks men to shoot themselves.

The heavy metal band Judas Priest and CBS Records were sued by the families of James Vance and Raymond Belknap, who in 1985 shot themselves in a playground after hours of drinking beer, smoking marijuana and listening to the group’s “Stained Class” album.

Belknap, 18, died instantly. Vance, then 20, blew off most of his face but survived. He underwent several operations and even fathered a child, but died three years later from a combination of his injuries and prescription drugs.

Lawyers for the family argued that the song “Better By You, Better Than Me,” contained hidden messages of “do it” that compelled the youths to shoot themselves.

Attorneys for the band and the record company countered that it was the youths’ dysfunctional lives, characterized by drug and alcohol abuse, that led to their deaths.

After a four-week trial in 1990, Washoe District Judge Jerry Whitehead ruled that subliminal messages existed on the album but were unintentional. He rejected the $ 6.2 million judgment sought by the families, saying there was no proof the messages caused the deaths.

In their appeal, lawyers for the families argued that Whitehead erred in requiring proof of intent on the part of the rock group. Instead, they contend the judge should have considered the case a product-liability case.

Attorney Shawn Meador, representing Judas Priest and CBS Records, said Whitehead ruled against the families because they failed to prove that subliminal messages could cause conduct.

A ruling from the court will be issued at a later date.

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