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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : latest news February 5, 2016

11/12/2011 3:05:00 PM
Sweat lodge victim statements carry weight
James Arthur Ray
James Arthur Ray

Mark Duncan
Enterprise Reporter

PRESCOTT - In the protracted pre-sentence hearing for James Arthur Ray, the state has presented eight witnesses over the past three days in its effort to prove additional aggravating factors that would convince Judge Warren Darrow to sentence the motivational speaker and author to the maximum allowable term of nine years in prison.

Led by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, the prosecution seeks to show that Ray exhibited a pattern of negligent conduct that led to harm, that the victims in the case placed trust in him to keep them safe, that he lacked qualifications to conduct his events, and that many people were harmed, both physically and emotionally, by his actions and omissions.

The testimonies of Virginia Brown, Margaret Clancy, Kristina Bivins and Julia Bunker carried considerable weight toward those ends, but paled in comparison with the brief statements made at the close of Thursday's court session by Andrea Puckett, Jane Shore and Matt Collins.

Puckett is the daughter of Liz Neuman, who died in a hospital nine days after the October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony that also led to the deaths of James Shore and Kirby Brown, resulting in Ray's conviction on three counts of negligent homicide.

Collins was Shore's business partner and spoke on behalf of Shore's wife and children.

He said that violence takes many forms, and that "the failure to act and failure to manage is perhaps the worst violence."

Ray stood as Collins and the others spoke, apparently moved by their words.

Collins said that Ray "ignored myriad opportunities to learn from his mistakes," and that "incarceration appears to us to be perhaps the only instructor Mr. Ray is likely to heed."

Mrs. Shore is James' mother, and her quiet words carried the weight of untimely loss.

She spoke of how her son, seeing that Ray had no intention of helping those who were in distress in the sweat lodge, took matters into his own hands, removing one woman from the tent before returning to Kirby Brown's side at the back of the lodge, where the two were found, lifeless, after the ceremony.

"My son Jimmy had a lot of dreams," Mrs. Shore said, adding that she believed Ray to be arrogant and consumed with power and pride before asking Darrow to "please give the maximum penalty of nine years, which is clearly not enough."

Puckett had attended several Ray events with her mother, who followed Ray's lead for seven years before her death. Neuman had been a volunteer at the Spiritual Warrior seminar, and many accounts of the event described her as deeply affected by a mid-week incident in which Ray berated her and others for sharing a bottle of wine.

Witnesses at the trial believed that Ray's displeasure led her to remain in the sweat lodge longer than she should have.

Puckett said she was most upset by the fact that her mother was identified as a Jane Doe in the Flagstaff hospital, and that neither Ray nor any of his staff made the effort to notify her and her family, or any of the other families, of what had happened.

"Nine years doesn't nearly serve enough justice for the lives that were lost," Puckett said.

Speaking directly to Ray, she said he should know "how disappointed and disgusted my mom would have been at the way you treated her.

"She called you a friendm and you left her there to die."

Darrow has allowed considerable leeway in the presentation of the state's case for aggravated punishment. Standing defense objections to apparent hearsay have been overruled, and Darrow has allowed the presentation of evidence he disallowed as prejudicial or irrelevant during the trial.

Beginning Tuesday, the defense will have the opportunity to present its case for a lenient sentence, contending that probation is appropriate for a man with no prior criminal record. They have listed 21 potential witnesses they intend to present in the three days leading up to Ray's sentencing Friday, Nov. 18.

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