Arizona jury finds self-help guru guilty on three counts of negligent homicide
Self-help guru James Arthur Ray was found guilty of negligent homicide Wednesday for the deaths of three people who suffered heat-related injuries during a 2009 Arizona sweat lodge ceremony. The case sent shock waves through the New Age community, which widely regarded Mr. Ray as one of the nation’s top leaders in personal growth and spiritual development.
The judge presiding over the case has not set a sentencing date. Mr. Ray faces a minimum sentence of 1.5 years for each of the three counts, and if aggravating circumstances are proven he could face as much as 11 years and 3 months imprisonment. The jury in Yavapai County Superior Court in Arizona found Mr. Ray not guilty of reckless manslaughter, a greater charge that likely would have spelled more prison time for the fallen leader.
Jurors reconvene on June 28 to determine whether there were aggravating circumstances surrounding the deaths. Mr. Ray remains free on a $525,000 bond.
The victims, James Shore, Liz Neuman and Kirby Brown, were among 56 participants in Mr. Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” retreat held in Sedona Arizona. Each had paid about $10,000 to attend the self-improvement event, which included packing into a makeshift sweat lodge with other participants.
Sweat lodges are a tradition among certain Native American tribes and are used for physical and spiritual cleansing. During a sweat lodge, super-heated rocks are placed in the middle of the low-standing, enclosed structure to elevate the inside temperature. Ray told participants that they would experience “the most intense heat” and would probably feel as though they were going to die during the ceremony.
Many participants eventually became delirious, vomited, or passed out, yet Mr. Ray did not interrupt the ceremony to check on the participants who had fallen ill. According to witnesses, he only continued to call for more hot stones while he continued the motivational exercises.
Nineteen participants, including the deceased, were later taken to a hospital in Flagstaff with burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure, and elevated body temperature.
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