Raymond Belknap and James Vance both shot themselves in the head in December 1985 after consuming alcohol and drugs, and listening to Priest music. Belknap died instantly while Vance survived with serious injuries; he died of a drug overdose three years later. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Halford and his bandmates found themselves accused of having embedded subliminal messages into their recordings that had encouraged the men to shoot themselves.
“That was extraordinary,” the singer told Classic Rock in a new interview. “They tried to push the blame for that on us, and that is a terrible thing to do.” He added that band members weren’t certain they’d be able to clear themselves because “we knew about the American court system, we knew how things could go sideways. It was unusual territory, these so-called subliminal messages.”
Asked about the famous picture of the band attending court in suits, Halford said: “I see a bunch of guys who were very confused, very angry, very determined. We knew that we were absolutely going to have to do the best job possible to get the truth out, so we made all the necessary adjustments and accommodations: wear suits, be respectful to the court and the judge. The prosecution created this fictitious rock ’n’ roll lifestyle that we were allegedly living, but we came in as four intelligent British gentlemen who knew how to deal with what was presented to us.”
The frontman was then asked if he celebrated after the judge cleared them. “No,” he responded. “I’d gone off to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico to hide, because the press were after us. Somebody called me up and said, ‘The judge has exonerated you It’s the end of the case, it’s done and dusted.’ But no, we didn’t celebrate. We were just relieved. And what got lost in all of it was the loss of these two beautiful, tragic lads. That’s the sadness of it all.”
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