Self-help guru James Arthur Ray's trial begins in sweat lodge deaths
Self-help guru and author James Arthur Ray listens to opening statements at his manslaugjter trial.
March 1st, 2011
04:29 PM ET

Self-help guru James Arthur Ray's trial begins in sweat lodge deaths

Opening statements began Tuesday in the trial of self-help author and speaker James Arthur Ray, who is charged with three counts of reckless manslaughter in the death of three people at an Arizona sweat lodge.

The trial stems from a well-publicized incident that took place during a ceremony at a five-day retreat in Sedona, Arizona, on October 8, 2009. Two people died during the ceremony at Angel Valley Retreat Center. A third died nine days later, and - authorities allege - at least 15 others fell ill.

Ray faces up to 10 years in prison on each count. His attorney has argued that the author is not to blame for the deaths.

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soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Jean Brown

    What is wrong with you people? "It's getting hawt in here" "sweat it up" "darwinism in action"?! Think about who might be reading this article and try to show a little respect. Unbelievable.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. kevin

    u have got to be kidding me! our taxs dollars going to waist! did he lock them in there? did he hold a gun to there head and make them stay in? nooo! they choose! they could have got up and left! it was there choice! no matter what he said to them! what i dont get is why r they even going to trial? what for! im sorry that people lost loved ones that hurts! but did he realy kill them? i dont think so.

    March 2, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  3. lejaune

    By some of the logic here, Bernie Madoff should have never been charged because he never hold gun to his victims' head to get their money. They willingly send money to Madoff.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. JasonD

    I was in the Army and whenever I did my best to improve my run, or when I went on those long full pack marches, there were times I felt I was going to die. It is up to each and everyone of us to learn the difference between what we think we can endure and what we actually can endure. If that construction wood used to heat the rocks had termite killing chemicals sprayed into it the people who were especially sensitive to those fumes were most probably the people who were injured or died. Plus, from my studies, sweat lodges are not supposed to be covered in non-breathable vinyl tarps. Such a sweat lodge could indeed be a death trap.

    March 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mitchell l gold

    it might be helpful if we understood that this was NOT a Sweat Lodge in the Traditional understanding of Sweat Lodge. those that refer to Mr. Rae´s process as a Sweat Lodge Ceremony may not be familiar with the notion of Sweat Lodge Ceremony. Mr. Rae´s attempt to steal the culture of the FIrst Nations Peoples, and then to charge exhoribant prices for the experience are likely to be punished for the wrong thing. Spiritual war is what this is called, and whatever happens to Mr. Rae for theft of cultural heritage will be interesting to watch. He is guilty of cultural spiritual theivery if nothing else.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JasonD

    They said there was plenty of water and people were continually encouraged to "hydrate, hydrate, hydrate" it was practically the mantra of the sweat lodge event. Of course, the wimps would have a hard time with the event. That is to be expected. However, when the three people who died were saying they were okay and acting as though they were okay what is Mr Ray supposed to believe? That they are okay, right? I watched much of the trial online today. I saw no indication that Mr Ray conducted the sweat lodge in a reckless manner. I say it's time for Mr Rays' defense to go on the offensive. No one else would have built a sweat lodge that big and covered it with non-breathable vinyl tarps. Was there anti-termite chemicals in the construction wood used to heat the grandfather stones that might have caused somewhat toxic fumes? In short: WAS THAT A SAFE SWEAT LODGE? And if not WHO BUILT IT AND THEN DESTROYED THE EVIDENCE!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. JasonD

    From what I have studied NO ONE has a copyright on how a sweat lodge must be conducted. It varies from tribe to tribe. You cannot sue Mr Ray because he stole a sweat lodge ceremony! He is free to conduct a sweat lodge ceremony as he sees fit!

    March 3, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. JasonD

    Then there are these Native Americans who complain so loudly because people were more than willing to pay big money for that Warrior Workshop, but have no qualms trying to take all his money away without earning it! Hypocrites!

    March 3, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. George Reynolds

    Today the soft, wimp, couch potato warrior wannabe witness was asked about “The Samural Game”. She immediately started to smile. There was no feeling of dread and fear, as the media wanted to portray the game. Ray played the part of God and she was a priest who was allowed to ask God questions. I believe the penalty for breaking silence was to allegorically die. It meant you dropped on the spot and remained motionless and silent for hours. When asked what she expected to gain from the game she wasn't certain. That's all I needed to hear. Here is a dimwit of a woman who participates in a game with uncomfortable penalties. She doesn't know exactly why she is playing and she doesn't even bother to ask anyone afterward what she was supposed to gain from the experience. Some “warrior”. I believe The Samurai game was to teach people to take responsibility for their actions and to force them to develop essential inner-silence and stillness by placing a silence penalty if silence was broken

    March 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. George Reynolds

    From what I have seen of the two witnesses, there is no indication from them that Mr Ray conducted the sweat lodge in a reckless manner. The first soft, overweight, couch potato, wimp, wannabe “warrior” witness, said yesterday, that at one point when she was concerned about one of the people who eventually died, Kirby Brown I believe, she called out five times in a loud voice that she felt there was something wrong with Kirby. Finally, someone in the dimly lit structure said she was okay. So what is everyone else in the sweat lodge supposed to believe? That Kirby Brown was okay, right?

    March 4, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. George Reynolds

    From today's soft, couch potato, wannabe warrior witness, who was right next to Liz Neuman (one of the people who died), there was no indication she was afraid to approach Mr Ray when she was concerned about Liz Neuman. Mr Ray told this witness that Liz had done this before and she knew what she was doing. The witness then went back to Liz and asked her if she was okay. Liz said she was fine. What is this woman supposed to believe?

    I mean, this is a couch potato, soft, wannabe warrior of a woman who, I believe, stayed in the sweat lodge the entire time, lying down, with Liz Neuman leaning against her leg (I believe). This couch potato wannabe warrior endured the entire event and suffered no permanent damage. Liz Neuman was experienced with the sweat lodge and said she was fine. What are people supposed to believe? If you are concerned about someone in a sauna and they say they are fine what are you to do, ESPECIALLY, if they paid big money to be in that particular sauna? You believe them, right?

    March 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. George Reynolds

    This whole trial is based on the assumption that Mr Ray conducted the sweat lodge in a reckless manner. I believe, if he did so the State of Arizona has the legal right to break the liability waiver the participants signed and then convict James Arthur Ray of manslaughter. So far there is NO INDICATION WHATSOEVER that Mr Ray conducted the sweat lodge in a reckless manner.

    Today the witness said that, at one point, a participant close to her said something to the effect, 'I've got to get out!' the person got up and left the sweat lodge. The person did not say, 'I want to get out, but I'm afraid of Mr Ray'.

    That's what this case is all about. It's about trying to prove that people stayed in the sweat lodge against their better judgment because they were afraid of Mr Ray. So far there is no indication whatsoever that people who wanted to leave the sweat lodge were afraid to do so because of Mr Ray. A couch potato, wimp, warrior wannabe endured the entire event, I believe, without ever leaving the sweat lodge. Whenever asked, Liz Neuman said she was okay. What more needs to be determined?

    March 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • S Mindful

      George Reynolds, perhaps you should share your clarity with Ray's attorney, by letter, for example. In my own thinking, I am finding metaphors with Columbus, his fellow "travelers," or the wagon trains of earlier hugely challenging, pioneering endeavors...if people choose a challenge, going to the edge, so to speak, it is clearly a choice–this in no way belittles the tragic aspects in this case...but, in our times, going into the future, there are innumerable new practices in search of the truth and people ready to take them on, especially about human power and its development beyond the confines of apparent mortal boundaries.

      March 4, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. George Reynolds

    Then we have the death of the third person, James Shore. A supposedly athletic guy who helped someone out of the sweat lodge when they needed to leave then came back into the sweat lodge. What does that say? That there was an indication the man was actually dying? I don't think so! What do you think this guy said when asked if he was okay?

    The death of Liz Neuman was an accident! Liz was certain she was okay when she wasn't. Mr Ray cannot know what you, as an individual, can or cannot endure. That is YOUR responsibility as a mature adult. There is no indication Mr Ray conducted the sweat lodge in a reckless manner. There is no indication that people were afraid to approach him. There is no indication that people were afraid to leave if they felt they could not endure the event thus the liability waiver cannot be broken and the people are bound to keep the written promises they made, period!

    March 4, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. George Reynolds

    I JUST FOUND THIS: Is there any substance to the rumor I heard that Angel Valley paid a very large sum of money in order to bribe the investigators to elevate the investigation from an accidental death to a homicide so that the attention would be shifted off of the sweat lodge and onto James Arthur Ray? The investigators deliberately left exhibit A at the crime scene knowing full well that Angel Valley would completely destroy the evidence. One of the people who was paid off supposedly got guilty drunk one night and confessed to some friends who in turn spoke to others. They made certain Mr Ray could not get an independent autopsy performed on the three bodies. They actually died from a strange combination of toxins from the melting vinyl tarps of the sweat lodge and the scrap construction wood used to heat the Grandfather Stones. It's some weird combination of chemicals that apparently made especially sensitive participants feel they were fine when they were actually dying. Supposedly, Angel Valley made Mr Ray the 'fall guy' and threw him to the wolves in order to save themselves. I think it was one of the coroners who got drunk and spilled the beans. Have any of you heard this rumor?

    March 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • SedonaCowboy

      The only "rumors" to this effect are the ones you keep spreading under your various log-ins Lee Kuan Major Minor Big George Jason David Darrow Sharon Richard, etc, etc, etc. I'd be careful if I were you or you may be joining Mr. Ray in prison after he is convicted since you are accusing public officials of accepting bribes. At the very least you are setting yourself up for a very large libel suit. Guess what? Since Angel Valley and the Yavapai County officials didn't sign any waivers issued by you saying you might make defamatory remarks on the internet about them, they'll win.

      March 8, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Carl Hammerschlag M.D.

    Here’s my summary of the first week of James Arthur Ray’s trial. Ray is the motivational guru charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 3 people during a sweat lodge ceremony in Oct. 2009. Last week, the first witnesses were called; survivors of that sweat lodge. They described the intensity of the heat, the unfolding sickness and watching their friends die.

    Ray's attorneys asked these witnesses if they could have left the lodge at any time. They said yes, and explained the reason they chose to stay in was because they wanted to experience these events that they believed were meant to help them gain control over their lives. They liked James Ray, believed he had something to teach that they wanted to learn, and they trusted him.

    The participants signed the waivers saying they knew the experience came with dangers. Ray told them about the risks, even exaggerated them telling participants his sweat lodges were “not for wimps”, they were so hot they would feel as if their “flesh was falling off their bones”. His sweats were not for wimps. This was a Spiritual Warrior retreat and if they dropped out they weren’t committed to making the changes they said they wanted to. Ray told them that this was the ultimate battle and that they “could live an honorable life, devote themselves 100% to everything they do, or they could exit dishonorably.

    This experience bears no resemblance to an authentic Native American sweat lodge; a sacred ceremony intended to open your mind/body/spirit to seeing something that you need to know, not potentially kill you. The leader doesn’t decide what you need to see or learn, that’s between you and the ‘stone people’ whose steam is the breath of your ancestors. The Native sweat lodge is intended to illuminate the spirit, not eliminate it.

    Ray may have outlined the risks, and he may not have physically kept them from leaving, but he made it difficult to do so. Those participants paid up to $9,000 to participate and they wanted to get their money's worth. They signed the waiver believing he would deliver what he promised, taking them on a journey of intense experience, and leading them out the other side.

    This was more than an intense experience; it was a fraudulent violation of trust.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edie Raether, MS, CSP

      AT LAST! Thank you Carl for a comment that made sense. I am concerned about many of the perceptions of people who have commented. I don't think they understand the "brain washing" that goes on at these events.
      If Jim Jones offered Kool Aid today, most people would say he had a right to lead people to their suicides.
      I just developed a character building program for children for this exact reason!!
      Edie ....colleague from NSA.

      March 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
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