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Judge, city act to stop concert

Hell on Earth faces jail time if it promotes a suicide concert before a hearing. St. Petersburg also acts.

By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published September 30, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - A local heavy metal band planning to feature the onstage suicide of a terminally ill person was ordered by a judge Monday to stop publicizing or selling tickets to the event.

Circuit Judge John C. Lenderman ruled that Hell on Earth, a Tampa-based group known for outrageous antics involving cow's blood and breast milk, can't promote the Oct. 4 concert until a hearing is held Thursday.

If band members defy the judge's ruling, they could be held in contempt of court and sent to jail.

Lenderman's decision comes in response to an emergency order passed unanimously by the City Council earlier Monday making it illegal to conduct a suicide for commercial or entertainment purposes, or to host, promote or sell tickets for such an event.

"I'm sickened that we even have to entertain such an ordinance," council member Bill Foster said. "While I'm reasonably sure this is just a publicity stunt, we can't just sit idly by while somebody loses their life."

Violating the city's ordinance could result in a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine. Florida law also makes it a second-degree felony to assist with a suicide.

But Hell on Earth's lead singer, Billy Tourtelot, said he planned to hold the concert despite the potential punishment.

"The show will go on," Tourtelot, 33, told the Associated Press on Monday. "It will be available on the Internet, and it will be in the city limits (of St. Petersburg)."

Hell on Earth is known for its shock appeal, recording songs such as Deliver Me to Evil and Ripping the Wings Off the Backs of Angels. Previous concerts have featured scantily clad women wrestling in chocolate syrup and Tourtelot grinding up live rats in a blender. The band caused more controversy with the announcement earlier this month that, as a statement in support of euthanasia, they would show a live onstage suicide as a part of their concert at the State Theater.

The concert is part of the band's national tour to support their new album, All Things Disturbingly Sassy.

State Theater co-owner Dave Hundley said Wednesday he would cancel the performance, citing fears it could inspire a riot or copycat suicides.

The next day, a message was posted on the band's Web site, saying the concert would be held at an undisclosed location within St. Petersburg's city limits and broadcast over the Internet.

In the message, Tourtelot said he swore an oath to help a terminally ill friend commit suicide. He said he wanted to raise awareness about physician-assisted suicide.

Tourtelot has refused to release information about the person's identity or condition. He also will not disclose the method planned for the suicide.

In a news release distributed last week, the person is quoted as saying: "I just want to say as my last will and testament that this is my God-given choice to end my life. I'd prefer to have a physician-assisted suicide but until the laws are changed, those who are in pain like me will either have to continue to suffer or do it themselves."

Physician-assisted suicide is illegal in every state except for Oregon.

But Hell on Earth isn't receiving any support from national right-to-die groups. Greg Eddleston, a spokesman for the Death With Dignity National Center, said his organization is working to contact the ill person to encourage him or her to find a more appropriate way to promote the cause.

"The success of the Oregon law is that it allows people to explore all of their options openly and honestly, with the involvement of their family and their physician, in a comforting and dignified manner," Eddleston said.

St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon said his officers were monitoring the situation closely but couldn't take any action until the judge issues a ruling.

"Right now, we're not sure that anything illegal is occurring," Harmon said.

The band is attracting national attention, with CNN, Newsweek and Rolling Stone, among others, clamoring for interviews.

But the maelstrom hasn't done much to boost sales locally, said Brian Mellgren, an employee at Daddy Kool Records. No one has purchased a Hell on Earth CD at the store since Sept. 18, before the news of the suicide broke.

"They're very tongue-in-cheek," Mellgren said. "I don't think they're meant to be taken seriously."

- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 30, 2003, 01:49:30]


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