Notes from a Preliminary Hearing
On the first day of Scott Dyleski’s preliminary hearing, Contra Costa County prosecutor Harold Jewett carried into the courtroom a large brown bag marked “Evidence” and set it at his feet. The bag sat there all morning as the prosecutor called witnesses to establish the gory crime scene where Pamela Vitale, 52, wife of well-known criminal defense attorney Daniel Horowitz, was murdered last October. Dyleski, then sixteen, was arrested for the crime and charged as an adult.
The afternoon session, like the morning’s, started off tedious. Some media spectators doodled in their notebooks while Jewett questioned a homicide detective about other evidence. The prosecutor often walks away from the witness stand to gaze into the audience as he asks questions, leaving witnesses to study his shoulders as they answer, and observers with the weird feeling Jewett has been watching too much TV — make that MTV.
After Jewett called Deputy Sheriff Joseph Moore to the stand, he reached for the brown paper bag and handed it to his witness. Moore had been present during Vitale’s autopsy and said he saw a symbol carved into her back: a double-topped T. He’d also collected evidence from Dyleski’s room and described it as “posters on the walls, posters on the ceiling, posters everywhere.”
Jewett dropped off the bag and strode away from Moore. He asked the deputy sheriff to describe its contents to the court.
“There’s a box set CD here,” a slack-jawed Moore said.
“What’s the title?” Jewett asked.
“Uh,” Moore paused. “Looks like … Velvet … Acid … Christ.”
“Velvet Acid Christ?” Jewett called to the audience as he raced back toward the witness box. “Yes,” Moore replied.
Jewett asked Moore to open the box set, and when the deputy sheriff struggled with the contents — which included a handheld light — Jewett reached over like an anxious parent and pulled out the items himself. He referred Moore to the liner notes of the band’s album, Hex Angel. “See any symbols there?” Jewett asked. “Down in the, let’s see” — he pondered the ceiling — “in the bottom right-hand corner?”
“Yes, I do,” Moore said.”
“And what does it look like?”
Moore tried to explain. “It’s like, like …”
For every former heavy metal fan who once carved a three-pronged Iron Maiden symbol into his notebook circa 1985, or a Mötley Crüe pentagram circa 1986, the moment was particularly eerie. Metal bands have a great history of employing nonsensical symbols (consider the umlaut) to enlist fan loyalty. To fans, a symbol is a sort of tribal branding — to outsiders, it’s evidence of evil.
Moore made motions with his hands to describe the mark. “It’s like a T, but with a curve at the top.”
Jewett approached a drawing board and grabbed a felt marker. The reporters made a lot of noise as they simultaneously flipped to a clean page in their notebooks. As Jewett drew the symbol, a dozen pens mimicked each stroke. He took a step back. “Is it like that?” he asked Moore.
“Just like that,” the deputy sheriff said.
Jewett capped the pen and put a sticker on the drawing board. He’d enter it into evidence; witness Moore had identified the symbol.
Later, during cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Ellen Leonida asked, “Is there anything illegal about being a fan of Velvet Acid Christ?”
Moore answered: “No.”— Justin Berton
Fun with Knives
Bryan Erickson just gained a dubious résumé point.
Industrial/metal dudes are accustomed to taking the blame for society’s ills — from Slayer’s suicide solutions to the all-purpose nihilism of Marilyn Manson, many a politician’s wife, op-ed columnist, and strident district attorney has made hay from the apocalypse’s musical horsemen. Denver’s Velvet Acid Christ, self-described as a “goth-electro-techno-
-ebm-terror-horror act that sometimes wanders into trip-hop territory,” now joins the ranks of the scapegoated.
Led by primary and occasionally sole member Bryan Erickson, VAC has enjoyed a prolific release schedule since the mid-’90s, including Neuralblastoma (1998), Fun with Knives (1999), and 2003’s Hex Angel: Utopia-Dystopia, whose liner notes include the symbol Dyleski allegedly carved in Pamela Vitale’s back. Reached through his label, Philly’s Metropolis Records, Erickson declined to comment. Metropolis in turn politely points out that a double-crossed T — with its similarity to other elemental and/or runic symbols — is not exactly unique to the band’s oeuvre.
Ultimately, a label spokesman refers to a message Erickson posted on VelvetAcidChrist.com on January 2: “I am pro animal, pro female rights, anti gun, anti war, anti murder, left, don’t believe in greed and capitalism. Whish to see a brighter future for nature and the human race.. My music is the mirror that i hold up to society.
“I like horror films and fiction as art and nothing more. I am not a psychopath. I am not evil. In fact i am now straight edge. I hate violence towards women and animals more than anything.” — Rob Harvilla