- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PRESCOTT, ARIZ. (AP) - A veteran testified Tuesday that a self-help author convicted of negligent homicide saved him from suicide.

Jack Lane was among a dozen witnesses that James Arthur Ray’s defense team plans to call to convince a judge that Ray is a good person and should receive probation. Testimony resumes Wednesday.

Ray led a 2009 sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona that turned deadly. He’s facing up to nine years in prison on the trio of negligent homicide convictions.

Lane says he reached out to Ray on Facebook the day he planned to commit suicide, and Ray responded by reassuring him of his worth.

Prosecutors have presented several witnesses to show that Ray’s events became progressively more dangerous and that he was fixated on earning money.

The judge will consider the testimony in sentencing Ray on Friday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Attorneys for a self-help author convicted in the deaths of three people following an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony are making their case for probation.

James Arthur Ray’s defense team called the first of nearly two dozen witnesses Tuesday to testify on Ray’s behalf. Ray led dozens of people in the October 2009 ceremony near Sedona. He’s facing up to nine years in prison after being convicted on three counts of negligent homicide.

Defense witness David McCall Jr. says Ray’s teachings put him on the path to spirituality, a better relationship with his family and improved his health. He turned to Yavapai County Judge Warren Darrow and pleaded for leniency for the man he considered a friend.

Ray’s best interest was in the people attending his events, he said. The Cleveland, Texas, resident told of the guilt his son felt recently when a horse he had been exercising stumbled and died.

“Sometimes people don’t really have that control, that they make people die,” he said. “Probation would be better.”

Prosecutors had presented several witnesses in an effort to show that Ray’s events progressively became more dangerous, his ego was overblown and he was fixated on earning money. The families of the victims _ James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y; and Liz Neuman, 48, of Prior Lake, Minn. _ have said Ray did nothing following the ceremony to make them believe he was concerned.

Ray’s attorneys have outlined 17 reasons they believe he shouldn’t be locked behind bars, including his lack of prior criminal history, good character, expression of remorse for the deaths he has maintained were a tragic accident and the need to care for a mother with thyroid cancer and a father with dementia.

Darrow will weigh the testimony from both sides before sentencing Ray on Friday. If Darrow gives Ray prison time, the defense has asked that the sentences be served concurrently and not start until after the appeals process.

Ray’s attorneys contend the four-month trial was tainted by prosecution errors and say there’s a significant possibility he’ll prevail on appeal. Darrow rejected at least nine defense requests for a mistrial or new trial in the case.

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