“We were fortunate enough to meet with James after the sentencing,” said his brother, Jon Ray. “He was in good spirits and said this would give him the opportunity to help people in prison that need it.”
Defense attorneys said they would appeal, likely on the grounds that errors by the prosecution tainted the case.
County Attorney Sheila Polk hoped Ray would get the maximum and believed she had made a strong case for accountability, justice and deterrence. But, she said, “certainly some prison time over probation is better than no prison at all.”
Ray originally was charged with manslaughter, but jurors rejected that he was reckless in his handling of the ceremony that highlighted Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event. Ray’s attorneys suggested that toxins or poisons contributed to the deaths, but jurors said that theory was not credible.
Ray’s motivational mantra drew dozens of people to the retreat with a promise that the sweat lodge typically used by American Indians to cleanse the body would lead to powerful breakthroughs. When the victims’ families discovered something went wrong, they said Ray made no attempt to identify people in the hospital.
Participants began showing signs of distress about halfway through the two-hour sweat lodge ceremony. By the time it was over, some were vomiting, struggling to breathe and lying lifeless on the ground. Brown and Shore were pronounced dead. Neuman slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. She died more than a week later at a Flagstaff hospital.
“He did some good, but this is about what he didn’t do,” said Shore’s mother, Jane Shore-Gripp. “He had the opportunity to save three people, and he didn’t.”
The trial was a mix of lengthy witness testimony and legal wrangling that lasted four months. Witnesses painted conflicting pictures of Ray, with some describing him as a coach who encouraged participants to do their best to endure the heat but never forced them to remain in the sweat lodge.
Others said they learned through breathing exercises, a 36-hour fast, and a game in which Ray portrayed God that they dare not question him, and they lost the physical and mental ability to care for themselves or others.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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