James Arthur Ray: Guilty On Three Counts Of Negligent Homicide
RAY NEGLIGENT IN DEATHS, JURY FINDS
NEW AGE GURU GUILTY IN SWEAT LODGE DEATHS
James Arthur Ray: Guilty On Three Counts Of Negligent HomicideJun 27
RAY NEGLIGENT IN DEATHS, JURY FINDS
VERDICT: GUILTY OF NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE, NOT MANSLAUGHTER
By Bob Ortega
The Arizona Republic
June 23, 2011
CAMP VERDE – He became a best-selling author, made millions and gained fame for his self-help claim that you attract into your life whatever happens to you — good or bad.
On Wednesday, James Arthur Ray was convicted by a jury on three counts of negligent homicide, placing the blame squarely on him for the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38; James Shore, 40; and Liz Neuman, 49, at a sweat-lodge event he led near Sedona in October 2009.
Some of Ray’s supporters say they remain convinced the “Law of Attraction” was at work in his conviction. Bob Proctor, Ray’s mentor, said he thinks the outcome should serve as a lesson for Ray.
Family and friends of the victims said they hope the verdict, in Yavapai County Superior Court, will serve notice to leaders in the largely unregulated self-help industry that they will be held accountable when their actions harm others.
Prosecutors had sought to convict Ray on three counts of manslaughter. By finding Ray guilty of the lesser, alternate charge of negligent homicide, the jury in effect decided that while Ray’s conduct caused the deaths, he wasn’t aware of or didn’t recognize the risk of death caused by his conduct — in this case, the manner in which he ran the sweat lodge.
“Mr. Ray has acted recklessly for years at these events,” said Thomas McFeeley, Brown’s cousin and her family’s spokesman, speaking by phone from Illinois. “While obviously we were hoping for greater charges, we’re happy that the responsibility has finally been laid at his feet for the deaths of Kirby, James Shore and Liz Neuman.”
Others relatives and friends of the victims said they were happy with the verdict.
“We believe justice has been served,” said Randy Neuman, Liz Neuman’s ex-husband, outside the courtroom. He said he and Liz’s three grown children were satisfied. “We think when you look at all the facts, the jury made a fair and proper judgment,” he said.
Mika Cutler, a friend of Brown, also said outside the courthouse that she was pleased with the outcome. “We’re happy the truth has been revealed,” she said.
Ray, his attorney, the prosecutors and the jury remain under a gag order until after sentencing. Jurors began deliberating Tuesday, 16 weeks to the day after the trial’s March 1 start; they needed less than eight hours over two days to agree on their verdict.
On Wednesday, Ray’s lead defense attorney, Luis Li, filed the latest of a slew of mistrial motions charging prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Warren Darrow dismissed the motion, which appeared aimed at laying the groundwork for an appeal.
Ray’s defense attorneys had maintained throughout the trial that the deaths were a regrettable accident; that by not looking closely enough early on at potential poisons that may have been present, the state mishandled its investigation; that Ray didn’t force anyone to stay in the sweat lodge; and that none of the more than 50 people at the event knew that the victims were at risk of death.
But jurors appear to have been convinced by the prosecution, which argued that there was no real evidence that poisonous organophosphates were present; that heat stroke was the obvious cause and best explained the symptoms reported in the victims and other participants; and that Ray was responsible because he controlled every aspect of the event, led participants to trust that the sweat lodge was safe, and didn’t stop the ceremony when people were clearly suffering, passing out and having difficulty breathing.
As the first of the three guilty verdicts was read Wednesday, a tense Ray visibly deflated, clenching his jaw to maintain control, as attorney Li patted him on the back.
Several participants said they hope the verdict sends a broader message.
“This is about more than one man’s actions on one day,” McFeeley said. “The self-help industry is a huge industry, and it needs watching.”
McFeeley said the Brown family is launching a non-profit organization to educate people about the self-help industry and what questions they should ask.
“If you’re a provider in the self-help industry and you’re convincing people to follow you and to trust you and to be vulnerable with you, and you lead them into harm’s way, you’re now going to be held accountable in a court of law,” said Shawna Bowen, a Sedona-area therapist and author of a book, “Never Again,” about the sweat-lodge deaths.
Ray remains free on bail pending sentencing. Darrow denied a request by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to have Ray taken into custody.
In the next phase of the trial, which begins Tuesday, jurors will hear from both sides regarding any aggravating factors that would merit a longer sentence. The prosecution plans to call nine witnesses, including relatives of all three victims.
Ray is eligible for probation and faces a maximum of three years and nine months on each charge if aggravating factors are found — meaning he faces up to 11 years and three months, though maximum sentences are rarely imposed on first offenses. Aggravating factors include being convicted of more than one offense. There are also mitigating factors, such as Ray’s lack of prior convictions, that could reduce a sentence.
Any defense appeal would be made after sentencing. After the jury decides on the question of aggravating factors, the case will be sent to Darrow for sentencing.
The sweat-lodge ceremony was the culmination of a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” retreat at the Angel Valley resort near Sedona, for which about 50 participants had paid up to $10,000 each to attend.
Participants in the ceremony gathered in a long, low, wood-framed structure covered with blankets and tarps. Stones were heated on a fire outside, then brought in by volunteers before each of eight roughly 15-minute rounds and placed in a hole near the center. Ray controlled the length and number of rounds, the number of stones used and how much water he poured over them to create steam.
Brown and Shore, who were in the rear section of the lodge, fell unconscious late in the ceremony and weren’t dragged out until about 15 minutes after it ended. By that time, they were dying or dead. Neuman died of massive organ failure nine days later in a Flagstaff hospital.
While it isn’t clear how jurors reached their conclusions, Arizona, unlike most states, allows jurors to submit written questions to witnesses; judges decide whether to allow each question after providing prosecution and defense attorneys an opportunity to object.
Questions jurors submitted over the course of the trial showed that they wrestled with such matters as when high heat and humidity found in a sweat lodge can turn deadly, whether Ray understood that people needed help and how much stock to put in defense claims that organophosphates — chemicals found in pesticides — might have caused or contributed to the deaths.
On June 9, for example, one juror queried Ian Paul, a New Mexico forensic pathologist called by the defense, on whether he’d dealt personally with cases of or deaths from organophosphate poisoning. He hadn’t.
Another asked, “What exposure levels of organophosphate toxicity would you expect to see in a case of human death?” Paul couldn’t say.
Another asked, “In your expert opinion, if a person passes out in a sweat lodge, should they be removed as soon as possible or is it OK to wait?” Paul said they should be removed.
Jurors repeatedly asked other witnesses similar questions about the role of heat and humidity, what amount of organophosphates it would take to kill someone in two hours, how the event compared to previous sweat lodges and whether Ray helped people after the ceremony.
All of the questions seemed aimed at sorting out the often inconsistent testimony tendered by the various witnesses.
NEW AGE GURU GUILTY IN SWEAT LODGE DEATHS
By Marc Lacey
New York Times
June 22, 2011
PHOENIX – A jury found James A. Ray, a self-help guru, guilty of negligent homicide on Wednesday in the deaths of three of his followers during a botched sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona in October 2009.
The decision, delivered after a nearly four-month trial in Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde, Ariz., means Mr. Ray was found to have caused the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y.; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., but did not necessarily recognize the risk he put them in. He could face anywhere from probation to more than 30 years in prison on the three guilty counts as court proceedings continue next week.
The prosecutor, Sheila Polk, had pursued a more serious charge of manslaughter, arguing that Mr. Ray should have known that the way he ran the two-hour ceremony, in which hot stones were piled in the center of the sweltering lodge, risked death and that he disregarded that risk.
The case drew international attention, largely because of the bizarre circumstances and because the deaths took place at a pristine campground within sight of the red rocks of Sedona, a well-known New Age gathering place.
A motivational speaker and author, Mr. Ray seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when he was found not guilty on the first manslaughter charge. But he looked stunned a moment later when the guilty verdicts came in. Watching the verdict were relatives of Mr. Ray as well as family members and friends of the victims, many of them holding hands as the decision was read.
After the verdicts, Ms. Polk asked Judge Warren R. Darrow to order Mr. Ray into custody, but Judge Darrow ruled against the motion.
Ms. Polk had painted Mr. Ray as a reckless man who continued his ceremony, the culmination of a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” seminar that cost as much as $10,000 a person, without regard for the participants who were falling ill and slipping into unconsciousness.
The defense said the three victims were not coerced by Mr. Ray and may have died from unknown toxins in the sweat lodge, a round wood-frame structure covered with blankets and tarps. Besides the three deaths, numerous other participants were injured during the ceremony, which was intended to push people to conquer their limitations. All had signed waivers warning that death was among the risks, Mr. Ray’s lawyers noted.
“You will have to get to a point to where you surrender and it’s O.K. to die,” Mr. Ray said in a recording during the ceremony that was played at the trial. After he spoke, a chaotic scene took place, according to witnesses at the trial, who described severely ill people being dragged out of the lodge.