|Ray defense invokes First Amendment|
|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Wednesday, 23 March 2011 00:00|
Defense attorneys for self-help speaker James Arthur Ray, on trial for three counts of manslaughter stemming from deaths at an October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony his company organized at a resort near Sedona, are arguing the state’s case and much of their evidence is unconstitutional.
Specifically, the defense is opposed to the prosecution’s attempts to focus on the influence Ray had on participants, influence that may have affected how long people stayed in the sweat lodge against their better judgment.
The defense also wants to prevent the state from using 107 audio clips taken from recordings made throughout the weeklong event, a $10,000-a-head program called “Spiritual Warrior.”
In a motion filed last week in Yavapai County Superior Court, the defense argues that the state’s arguments fly in the face of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects Ray from being prosecuted based on what effect his speech, protected by that amendment, may have had on others.
“When the state seeks to impose criminal liability on a defendant based on the content of his speech, therefore, it bears the burden of establishing that the speech is unprotected,” the motion reads. “The state has made no effort to meet its burden here, and it cannot do so.”
The motion lists several responses from the state in earlier filings in which the effect of Ray’s words could be perceived to have influenced the mental state of the participants.
“In short, the state alleges that Mr. Ray’s words of encouragement, and his teachings regarding perseverance and honor caused the decedents to die — and thus justify criminal prosecution in this case,” the motion states.
The defense, in a separate motion, is also arguing to get the court to prevent the state from focusing on the mental states of people involved in the sweat lodge ceremony.
The defense argues that the state hasn’t introduced any evidence to prove that the mental states of the deceased played a role in their decision to stay inside the sweat lodge or that Ray knew if any mental state of a participant was a reason to assume an unjustifiable risk.
The defense also wants to prevent the state from asking what it describes as leading questions it argues are intended to make the jurors see Ray as a callous person.
Ray’s behavior and actions at other events prior to the sweat lodge are also irrelevant, the defense argues.
The evidence that has already been introduced which the defense feels falls within these areas should be stricken from the record, the motion concludes, and jurors should be instructed not to consider it when determining Ray’s guilt or innocence.