- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

CAMP VERDE, ARIZ. (AP) - Jurors in central Arizona have reached a verdict in a self-help author’s manslaughter trial.

The verdict is expected to be read at 2:50 p.m. PDT Wednesday.

Eight men and four women had been considering whether James Arthur Ray is responsible for the deaths of three people following an October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony he led near Sedona.

Prosecutors urged jurors to convict Ray of three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman. They also can consider the lesser charge of negligent homicide.

Ray’s attorneys told jurors that the state hasn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Ray is culpable. They accused authorities of botching the investigation and failing to consider that anything other than Ray caused the deaths.

More than 50 people participated in the sweat lodge ceremony that was meant to be the highlight of Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” seminar near Sedona.

In addition to the three who died, 18 people were hospitalized, while several others were given water to cool down at the scene. Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagree over whether the deaths and illnesses were caused by heat or toxins.

Ray used the sweat lodge as a way for participants to break through whatever was holding them back in life. He warned participants in a recording of the event played during the trial that the sweat lodge would be “hellacious” and that participants were guaranteed to feel like they were dying but would do so only metaphorically.

“The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you’ll ever experience is the fear of what? Death,” Ray said in the recording. “You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it’s OK to die.”

Witnesses have described the scene following the two-hour ceremony as alarming and chaotic, with people dragging “lifeless” and “barely breathing” participants outside and volunteers performing CPR.

Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and Shore, 40, of Milwaukee died upon arrival at a hospital. Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., slipped into a coma and died more than a week later at a Flagstaff hospital.

Ray’s attorneys maintained the deaths were nothing but a tragic accident, and said Ray took all the necessary precautions to ensure participants’ safety. They contend authorities botched the investigation and failed to consider that toxins or poisons contributed to the deaths and called two witnesses to support that argument.

Prosecutors relied heavily on Ray’s own words to try to convince the jury that he was responsible for the deaths. They said a reasonable person would have stopped the “abomination of a sweat lodge” when participants began exhibiting signs of distress about halfway through the ceremony.

Sweat lodges typically are used by American Indians to rid the body of toxins by pouring water over heated rocks in the structure.

Ray became a self-help superstar by using his charismatic personality and convincing people his words would lead them to spiritual and financial wealth. He used free talks to recruit people to expensive seminars like the Sedona retreat that led to the sweat lodge tragedy. Participants paid up to $10,000 for the five-day program intended to push people beyond their physical and emotional limits.

Ray’s popularity soared after appearing in the 2006 Rhonda Byrne documentary “The Secret,” and Ray promoted it on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live.”

But his multimillion-dollar self-help empire was thrown into turmoil with the sweat lodge deaths. Ray ended his seminars shortly after but has continued to offer advice throughout his trial via the Internet and social networking sites.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide