|Defense says state destroyed evidence|
|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Thursday, 01 September 2011 15:00|
Attorneys for convicted self-help author and motivational speaker James Arthur Ray accused the state of destroying evidence that could have proved him innocent, according to a document published online by the Yavapai County Clerk of Superior Court earlier this month.
Ray, 53, was convicted earlier this summer for three counts of negligent homicide in the October 2009 deaths of Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Minnesota, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, who died after participating in a sweat lodge ceremony held a large tentlike structure that was heated to high temperatures with water poured on hot rocks.
The ceremony came at the end of a weeklong Spiritual Warrior event, a $10,000-a-head seminar hosted by Ray’s company, James Ray International at the Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona. His attorneys have consistently accused the prosecution of wrongdoing in an attempt to have the court act more leniently toward their client, accusations the prosecution has consistently denied.
During the trial, the defense argued that other factors besides the heat, such as the potential presence of toxins, could have been responsible for the injuries and deaths, an argument the jury didn’t agree with.
“One of Mr. Ray’s core defense theories targets the state’s failure to prove that the cause of death was heat rather than a superseding cause like toxic poisoning,” stated the motion, filed by Thomas Kelly, a Prescott-based attorney who worked with other lawyers from Los Angeles in Ray’s defense. “Yet the state permitted to be destroyed or failed to preserve important evidence, indeed, the best evidence, that Mr. Ray could use to contest the state’s theory and prove his innocence.”
The motion argues that the state erred when it allowed Angel Valley to burn and destroy the sweat lodge, where the site has since been converted into a memorial to the victims. The defense also accused the prosecution of failing to test the victims’ blood for evidence of organophosphate poisoning “at a time when such testing would be meaningful.”
The motion also criticizes the state for collecting “only .0001” of the soil under the lodge, soil where the defense postulated there could have been pesticides.
The issue is one of several defense points that could be brought up if Ray gets a new trial, something his lawyers argued for in court earlier this month.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow has taken the matter under advisement. Without a new trial, Ray’s sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin later in September.