|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Monday, 27 June 2011 00:00|
James Arthur Ray was found guilty Wednesday, June 22, in the deaths of three people at an October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona.
The jury returned the verdict a little before 3 p.m. after around eight hours of deliberations at the Yavapai County Superior Courthouse in Camp Verde. The jury didn’t find Ray guilty on original charges of manslaughter, instead convicting him on three lesser charges of negligent homicide.
The difference is big. Three manslaughter convictions could have seen Ray serve more than 30 years in prison. The convictions for negligent homicide mean at most Ray could serve just over 11 years behind bars, possibly less if he serves time at all.
Ray, 53, a motivational speaker and self-help author, was charged with three counts of manslaughter stemming from a fatal incident at a weekend event held at the Angel Valley Retreat Center outside of Sedona.
Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Minnesota, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after participating in a sweat lodge ceremony held in a large tentlike structure that was heated to high temperatures with water poured on hot rocks.
The ceremony came at the end of a week-long Spiritual Warrior event, a $10,000-a-head seminar hosted by Ray’s company, James Ray International.
Brown and Shore were pronounced dead the day of the event. Neuman never regained consciousness and died days later in the hospital.
The verdict came after weeks of arguments since opening statements began March 1. The prosecution called more than 30 witnesses to the stand to try and paint Ray as a man who knew the risks involved in running a sweat lodge, but who failed to provide adequate safety measures and ignored participants who were clearly in distress. Those sign included unconsciousness, shaking and foaming at the mouth.
It was continually brought up that Ray warned participants beforehand his sweat lodge was more intense than others, and those inside could “feel like [they] are going to die.”
The defense argued other factors beyond Ray’s control could have contributed to the deaths, including the possible pesticides on the tarps used to build the structure. In the end, the jury felt Ray was responsible for the deaths the state argued could have been prevented.
Ray remains out of jail on a $525,000 bond pending sentencing, after a prosecution request to take Ray into custody immediately was denied. The case is expected to continue Tuesday, June 28, as the prosecution and defense argue for aggravating or mitigating circumstances that could affect how Judge Warren Darrow determines the amount of time Ray could spend in jail.
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