|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Wednesday, 20 July 2011 12:00|
Defense attorneys for self-help author and motivational speaker James Arthur Ray filed a motion last week seeking a new trial for their client, arguing the prosecution was guilty of misconduct.
The prosecution also admitted it made a mistake in playing an audio clip for the jury that had not been admitted into evidence.
Ray, 53, was convicted last month of 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 in a large tentlike structure 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.
In a notice filed with Yavapai County Superior Court on July 11, the state pointed out approximately one minute of audio played for the jury had not been admitted into evidence. The clip was played during Ray’s hearing that determined whether or not there were any aggravated circumstances surrounding the crime that could affect sentencing, after the jury had already found Ray guilty.
The prosecution argues, however, the mistake was minor and had no effect on Ray’s case, particularly since the jury didn’t find there was an aggravating factor that the state was using that particular audio clip to try and prove.
The jury did find an aggravating factor in that the deaths of the victims caused their families severe emotional distress.
In the notice, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk wrote the state “submits the error of playing one minute of unadmitted audio during the closing argument in the aggravation hearing was harmless, had no impact on the jury’s determination of aggravating circumstances, and no prejudice resulted to defendant.”
In another 25-page motion filed July 13, Ray’s attorneys lay out their argument to give their defendant an entirely new trial.
“The egregious prosecutorial misconduct throughout this litigation deprived Mr. Ray of his constitutional right to a fair trial,” the defense motion argues. “At every turn, the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office exceeded the bounds of legal and ethical conduct, made knowing misstatements of law and fact, and recklessly violated the Constitution.”
The motion goes on to call the alleged misconduct by the prosecution “staggering” and outlines 10 specific categories of behavior the defense argues should guarantee Ray a new trial.
Those categories include accusations of pretrial misconduct, “meritless, bad-faith arguments” during jury selection, midtrial investigation and failure to comply with the rules regarding expert witnesses, frivolous legal arguments, a “pattern of improper questioning of witnesses,” and making “numerous inadmissible statements” in court.
“There is real doubt whether a criminal defendant in Yavapai County can have a fair trial given the pattern of aggressively unrepentant misconduct by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office,” the motion argues. “At the least, the extreme misconduct in this case mandate a new trial and sanctions.”
The sentencing phase of the Ray trial, originally set for Monday, July 25, has been delayed pending a presentencing hearing set for Tuesday, Aug. 16. Ray could face more than 11 years in prison.
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