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James Ray defense aims to block witnesses
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 00:00

While testimony continues in the manslaughter trial of self-help author and motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, his defense team has been trying to prevent some prosecution witnesses from testifying before a jury.

Ray, 53, is charged with three counts of manslaughter following the deaths of three people who attended a $10,000 a head “Spiritual Warrior” event at the Angel Valley Retreat Center south of Sedona in October 2009. The weeklong event culminated in a sweat lodge ceremony, a couple of hours spent inside a tentlike structure where heated rocks were used to increase the temperature to elevated levels.

The ceremony is somewhat modeled after American Indian traditions, although some Indians have taken exception to Ray’s use of their history and culture as part of his self-help events.

Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman died after participating in the ceremony; Brown and Shore were pronounced dead on the scene while Neuman died in the hospital days later after doctors took her off life support. Several others experienced some unpleasant symptoms and injuries.

The prosecution, led by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, are trying to prove to the jury that Ray is criminally responsible for the deaths, deaths that medical examiners declared were the results of hypothermia and heat stroke.

The defense attorneys for James Arthur Ray, right, have argued that other factors beyond Ray’s control could have been responsible for the deaths, and the whole thing was nothing more than a very tragic accident.

Last week, Thursday, May 5, Ray’s attorneys filed a motion in Yavapai Superior Court asking Judge Warren Darrow to prevent seven potential witnesses from testifying, all of them participants in the deadly October 2009 sweat lodge incident.

The motion argues that the prosecution didn’t notify the defense about these witnesses until May 3, 40 days into the trial.

Allowing these people to testify is unnecessary because it would just provide repetition of testimony already given to the jury, according to the motion. Furthermore, the defense predicts that if all these witnesses were to take the stand, there is no way the trial could end by the Friday, June 10, deadline Darrow previously set for this case, an estimate on the four weeks it took to hear the testimony of 12 other sweat lodge participants.

The motion goes on to cite legal rules that allows evidence, even relevant evidence, to be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”

The defense also cites a federal case in which the court found that the court needs the right to limit how many people can be permitted to testify about one fact.

The trial is expected to resume this week at the Yavapai County Superior Court House in Camp Verde.


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