|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Wednesday, 05 January 2011 16:00|
Attorneys representing self-help author and motivational speaker James Arthur Ray are asking a Yavapai County Superior Court judge to suppress from evidence videos recorded by Ray and posted to the website YouTube.com.
Ray faces three charges of manslaughter stemming from deaths that took place at a special sweat lodge ceremony at Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona in October 2009, which was part of a $10,000-a-head event.
Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside the sweat lodge.
Ray turned himself in to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Prescott last February.
In documents filed by attorneys for the prosecution, the state disclosed it would possibly admit the online videos recorded by Ray as evidence.
In a request filed by Ray’s defense team late last month, his lawyers argue the videos were prepared after the October 2009 incident and have no relevance on the sweat lodge incident or on Ray’s upcoming trial, scheduled to begin in February.
The defense argues the videos are of Ray discussing self-help topics, such as “How to Flow Through Life’s Challenges,” and are unrelated.
Instead, the defense claims the prosecution wants to show the recordings to the jury in order to make Ray look bad.
“[The recordings] are only being offered to prejudice [the] defendant in front of the jury by showing defendant remains engaged in self-help tutorials despite the allegations of wrongdoing alleged in the indictment,” states the request, signed by defense attorney Thomas Kelly. “Under such circumstances the video tapes should be suppressed.”
The defense goes on to argue the recordings would only be used by the state to back an argument Ray is “still a danger” or “has not learned his lesson” or something similar.
“Such a purpose is simply designed to inflame the passions of the jury and has no relevance to the charged crimes,” the request reads.
The defense also want to keep testimony or interviews conducted by the state in which the people answering questions gave an opinion one way or the other as to Ray’s guilt or innocence. Ray’s attorneys are also seeking to keep the state from having witnesses give “victim impact statements” before the jury, that is, witnesses describing the emotional impact the deaths of the alleged victims had on their lives.
“Mr. Ray is on trial for manslaughter based on the theory he recklessly caused the deaths of three alleged victims,” reads a motion filed Dec. 27. “The jury should decide the case based on evidence, not sympathy for the victims or their family and friends.”
The motion cites a 1988 case before the Texas Court of Appeals where testimony about the emotional impact of a rape on a victim was excluded as irrelevant.
“The introduction of victim-impact testimony would additionally violate Mr. Ray’s rights to due process and a fair trial under the United States and Arizona constitutions,” the motion continues. “Mr. Ray has a right to be tried before an unbiased jury solely on evidence relating to the issue of innocence or guilt of the charged crime.”
The trial is set to begin Wednesday, Feb. 16.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow has set aside 65 days for the proceedings, three to four days a week from mid-February through mid-June, if necessary.
Ray has been excused from attending hearings in Camp Verde until his trial begins, unless his presence is demonstrated to be absolutely necessary.
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