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Hell on Earth Show Banned

Judge takes action against suicide band

October 3, 2003 12:00 AM ET

A Florida judge issued a temporary injunction on Thursday banning the metal group Hell on Earth from performing their "suicide" show within St. Petersburg city limits on Saturday. The move came after the band's leader, Billy Tourtelot, insisted that his group would go ahead with its plans to have an unnamed terminally ill patient commit suicide during Hell on Earth's Saturday night show.

"[Governor] Jeb Bush himself is getting people to ban this show, and he can't legally do that," Tourtelot told Rolling Stone late last week. "This is about government officials abusing their powers and violating our First Amendment rights."

After losing bookings at two local clubs due to the uproar over the stunt, Tourtelot said last week that Hell on Earth would Web cast the show from an undisclosed location, while the suicide would take place at a separate, also undisclosed, location.

Thursday's ruling, which bars the band from performing or advertising the show, came from Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge John C. Lenderman at the request of St. Petersburg city officials, according to Mayor Rick Baker. "The Attorney General has also just weighed in and they believe this could also constitute assisted suicide under a state statute, which would be a second degree felony manslaughter charge with a fifteen-year prison sentence," Baker told Rolling Stone today.

Tourtelot was not present at Thursday's hearing, and Baker said authorities have not yet been able to track him down to serve him with the injunction. Tourtelot said last week that he would not abide by a recently passed city ordinance banning suicides staged for commercial or entertainment purposes. Baker said the penalty for violating that ordinance could be up to sixty days in jail and a $500 fine, while violating the injunction would put Tourtelot in contempt of court, which could have "more far reaching" implications at the judge's discretion.

Tourtelot said his band would not be selling tickets to the show, but would invite a "select audience." "This person will be doing this themselves, with no physician on hand," Tourtelot said, denying that the stunt was equivalent to physician-assisted suicide. "This person wants to make sure we don't go to prison."

Tourtelot, son of a prominent area real estate magnate, could not be reached again for comment at press time. As of Friday morning, the band's Web site was not accessible.

"The predicament we're in is that we don't know if this is a publicity stunt, and if it's not, we'll be too late to do anything," Baker said. "So we have to take them at their word and build a legal structure that will subject them to criminal penalties if they do this." Baker said his office received a hand-written note from the person who is allegedly going to commit suicide, but that they could not locate or verify that person's identity.

Tourtelot has repeatedly told Rolling Stone that the suicide is not a stunt or a gimmick, but will be an actual suicide meant to bring attention to the right-to-die movement.

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