Nothing speaks to the complexity of the soul quite like music. Hearing the right song at the right time is a thing of magic; giving voice to the unspeakable and providing a necessary outlet for emotions that span the entirety of the human condition. Music helps us celebrate. Music helps us mourn. Music helps us vent personal frustrations in a healthy, safe and controlled manner.
Well, most of the time…
Guns N’ Roses have never been strangers to controversy. The notorious bad boys used to go out of their way to shock and provoke, whether it be covering “Look At Your Game, Girl” by sadistic cult leader Charles Manson, hurling around racial and homophobic slurs in “One In A Million”, or reveling in sexual exploitation and misogyny on “It’s So Easy” and “Back Off Bitch.” Although the band have always approached their material with an air of tongue-in-cheek plausible deniability, some disturbed fans have taken the lyrics to one Guns N’ Roses to heart with devastating results.
Appearing on their second album, 1998’s G N’ R Lies, “Used To Love Her” seemed tailor-made to rile up feminists and the politically correct. With music that has a distinct country swagger and a chorus that reads, “I used to love her but I had to kill her. I had to put her six feet under. And I can still hear her complain,” the song was bound to raise some eyebrows.
Freaking out the squares is one thing, but “Used To Love Her” took on a much darker identity when it became evidence in the first degree murder trial against Justin Barber, a man from Florida who was accused in the 2002 killing of his wife. After a forensic analyst testified that Barber had downloaded the song in the hours before the murder and then subsequently deleted it, the track was played for the jury along with lyrical accompaniment. Barber was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2006.
As if one slaying wasn’t enough, the song was involved in a second murder trial a few years later. The prosecution alleged that Thomas Michael Wilhelm sang along to “Used To Love Her” right before he shot Christine Murray, his business partner and former girlfriend, in 2012.
According to the district attorney, Wilhelm sent a text message to a friend 11 minutes before the shooting, saying that he was listening to the song. Wilhelm was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years to life.