VERDE -- Self-help author James Arthur Ray was found guilty on three
counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of three people who died at
his sweat-lodge event near Sedona in October 2009.
charge of negligent homicide could carry penalties of up to 11 years. He
was found not guilty on three counts of the more serious charge of
Sweat-lodge incident in Sedona
Critics: James Arthur Ray often misused teachings
A key question at trial: Were the dangers known?
participants in the sweat lodge died: Kirby Brown, 38; James Shore, 40;
and Liz Newman, 49.
Jurors deliberated a bit less than eight hours over two days. They began
deliberating Tuesday, 16 weeks to the day after the trial began March 1
in Yavapai County Superior Court.
sweat lodge was the culmination of a five-day "Spiritual Warrior"
retreat at the Angel Valley resort near Sedona, for which some 50
participants had paid up to $10,000 each to attend.
Participants in the sweat lodge gathered in a long, low, wood-framed
structure covered with blankets and tarps. Stones were heated on a fire
outside, then brought in by volunteers before each of eight roughly
15-minute rounds and placed in a hole near the center. Ray controlled
the length and number of rounds, the number of stones used and how much
water he poured over them to create steam.
Unlike most states, Arizona allows jurors to submit written questions to
witnesses; judges decide whether to allow each question after providing
prosecution and defense attorneys an opportunity to object.
Questions they submitted over the course of the trail showed that jurors
wrestled with such matters as when the high heat and humidity found in a
sweat lodge can turn deadly, whether Ray understood that people needed
help and how much stock to put in defense claims that organophosphates -
chemicals found in pesticides - may have caused or contributed to the
June 9, for example, one juror queried Dr. Ian Paul, a New Mexico
forensic pathologist called by the defense, on whether he'd dealt
personally with cases of or deaths from organophosphate poisoning. He
Another asked, "What exposure levels of organophosphate toxicity would
you expect to see in a case of human death?" Paul couldn't say.
Another asked, "In your expert opinion, if a person passes out in a
sweat lodge, should they be removed as soon as possible or is it OK to
wait?" Paul said they should be removed.
defense attorneys maintained that the deaths were a regrettable
accident; that by not looking closely enough early on at potential
poisons that may have been present, the state muffed its investigation;
that Ray didn't force anyone to stay in the sweat lodge; and that none
of the more than 50 people at the event knew that the victims, Kirby
Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, were at risk of death.
Prosecutors argued that there was no solid evidence that
organophosphates were present; that heat stroke was the obvious cause
and best explained the symptoms reported in the victims and other
participants; and that Ray was responsible because he controlled every
aspect of the event, led participants to trust that the sweat lodge was
safe, and didn't halt the event when people were clearly suffering,
passing out and having difficulty breathing.
questions to the two Arizona medical examiners testifying for the
prosecution ranged from what advice one would give people about to
participate in a sweat-lodge event to whether a body could sweat
properly in a highly humid environment, to how much organophosphates it
would take to kill someone in two hours.
Jurors asked various witnesses who took part in the event how it
compared to previous sweat lodges, how much hotter it was and whether
Ray helped people after the ceremony.
of the questions seemed aimed at sorting out the often inconsistent
testimony tendered by the various witnesses.