Elyse Marie Pahler's photograph sits in a jelly jar on the spot where she was killed in what prosecutors say was a sacrifice to Satan. The photo shows a smiling girl, her blond hair drenched in sunlight.
To her three teenage killers, she represented a "ticket to hell," prosecutors said Thursday.Three boys took Pahler, 15, to a secluded eucalyptus grove about a quarter-mile from her home, fed her drugs, raped her, cinched a belt around her neck to make it easier to stab her, and offered her up as the "ultimate sin against God," Deputy District Attorney Dan Bouchard said.
Royce E. Casey, 17, Jacob W. Delashmutt, 16, and Joseph Fiorella, 15, are already charged with her murder. This week, Bouchard amended those charges to include rape, torture and conspiracy to commit murder, charges that could bolster the district attorney's attempt to have the youths tried as adults.
Formal charging of the additional counts was scheduled for today. All defendants are in custody.
Pahler knew her killers by riding with them on the same school bus, Bouchard said.
Delashmutt, Fiorella and Pahler attended Arroyo Grande High School in this city north of Los Angeles. Delashmutt was expelled from the school in September; Fiorella left in February to be schooled at home. Casey attended a nearby school.
The three stabbed the girl to death at what was believed to be an altar to Satan, Bouchard said. The boys "selected and stalked" Pahler, believing that she was a virgin and that her sacrifice would earn them a "ticket to hell," he said.
Pahler disappeared July 22 and had been reported missing until Casey came forward and led authorities to her body on March 14, Bouchard said.
The girl left her house voluntarily the night she died, police said, although it wasn't clear where she was headed or at what point she encountered her killers. She died that night.
Casey's defense lawyer, Kevin McReynolds, said the allegations were exaggerated in an attempt to inflame public opinion.
"A lot of the allegations are grossly overstated and some of them are flatly without any factual support whatsoever," McReynolds said.
Fiorella's lawyer declined comment Thursday. Delashmutt's attorney was unavailable for comment, his office said.
A hearing was set for June 12. If the teenagers are tried as adults and the jury finds special circumstances, they face up to life without parole.
The oldest of four children, Pahler was described by her family as being active in church and gifted in the arts.
"She loved God, his beautiful world and loved her friends and large family," the family said in an obituary.
Pahler's mother, Lisanne Pahler, said the worst thing was thinking about the torture her daughter must have endured.
"Something is wrenched from you, a piece of your heart. That's what it feels like," Elyse's mother told KNBC-TV. "The pain, it's so great, it's as great as any physical pain, anything you can imagine."