Print James Arthur Ray trial put on hold until May 26
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Thursday, 19 May 2011 00:00

The manslaughter trial of self-help author and motivational speaker James Arthur Ray has been put on hold until Thursday, May 26, so one of Ray’s defense attorneys can meet a prior obligation.

James Arthur RayRay, 53, was charged with three counts of manslaughter after Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after participating in a sweat lodge ceremony at Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona in October 2009. The sweat lodge was a tentlike structure where heated rocks were used to create high temperatures.

The center was the site of a $10,000-a-head week-long “Spiritual Warrior” seminar hosted by Ray’s organization, James Ray International. The sweat lodge ceremony was supposed to wrap up a week that included activities such as a 36-hour “vision quest” where participants were isolated without food and water, special breathing exercises and writing in journals.

Brown and Shore were dead after the sweat lodge ceremony. Neuman was hospitalized for several days without regaining consciousness before she died of organ failure. Several others were treated for injuries.

The prosecution wants to hold Ray criminally responsible, arguing that conditions inside the lodge caused the victims to die of heatstroke and other related causes. The defense paints the incident as a tragic accident and has pointed to other potential factors beyond Ray’s control that could have caused the deaths.

The break comes after a week of testimony that saw one of the state’s expert witnesses, Dr. Matthew Dickson, stand by his belief that heatstroke was the cause of death, along with more testimony from law enforcement and witnesses to the chaotic scene following the sweat ledge ceremony.

In the meantime, the defense has continued to file motions requesting that some of the witnesses expected to be called by the state not be permitted to take the stand. Many of those witnesses were present at the sweat lodge event. The defense has argued that given the amount of eyewitness testimony already given, more of it would be repetitive, unnecessary and would lengthen the trial needlessly.

The sweat lodge site at Angel Valley Retreat Center was immediately closed down following an incident claiming the lives of three people in October 2009. James Arthur Ray currently stands trial for the deaths.In a response filed last week by the state, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk argued that the testimony of these witnesses provides a “unique, personal account of what occurred,” accounts the state wants to use to illustrate the mental and physical conditions of people inside the sweat lodge.

Furthermore, Polk argues that the prosecution has already shortened its witness list and despite that, it’s unlikely the trial will conclude by Friday, June 10, as Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow initially ordered.

Darrow did, however, exclude one of the state’s expected expert witnesses, Dr. Richard Haddow. Darrow found that the state failed to disclose a report from Haddow to the defense that could be considered favorable to Ray’s case.

Darrow stated that should take care of the issue, without declaring a mistrial as the defense had requested.

The trial is scheduled to resume May 26 at the Yavapai County Superior Courthouse in Camp Verde.