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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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7/20/2012 11:09:00 AM
James Arthur Ray appeals sweat lodge conviction
Claims judge gave jury faulty instructions, state broke rules
James Arthur Ray
James Arthur Ray
Contributing Reporter

PHOENIX - James Arthur Ray, sentenced to two years in prison after a sweat lodge ceremony he led in 2009 resulted in the deaths of three participants, has appealed his conviction on the grounds that the judge gave the jury instructions that violated Arizona law and the prosecution engaged in "misconduct."

Ray, a well-known motivational speaker and author, was in November 2011 found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, who died from heat-related trauma they suffered while taking part in a sweat lodge ceremony Ray was leading at a spiritual retreat center near Sedona. Ray was sentenced to three two-year prison sentences, to be served concurrently. In addition, he was ordered to pay $57,514 in restitution to the families of the victims and a fine of $20,000 plus an 84 percent surcharge, totaling $36,800.

The 98-page brief, filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals, claims this instruction, given to the jury by then-Yavapai Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow, is the centerpiece of its appeal:

"'Omission' means the failure to perform an act as to which a duty of performance is imposed by law. The only duty you may consider in this case is whether the defendant has violated the manslaughter statutes, or, if appropriate, negligent homicide statutes as defined in these instructions."

Writing in the brief, attorney Daniel Collins said, "Ray is entitled to a new trial because the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on omissions, and then compounded that error by defining 'duty' in a manner squarely prohibited by settled Arizona case law."

Essentially, this argument says that, if a defendant is to be found guilty of negligent homicide because of omissions, or things he did not do, the state has to prove that he failed "to perform a duty imposed by law."

Collins argued that, if there was a duty at all, it would have been with James Ray International Inc., which failed to have enough medical personnel at the scene, didn't have a defibrillator, inadequate training, and failed to require medical exams for the participants.

Ray's lawyers had asked Darrow to instruct the jury that "if you conclude that James Ray International, the corporation, engaged in wrongful conduct, you may not consider that as evidence of Mr. Ray's guilt of the crimes or for any purpose," but Darrow refused.

The brief offers a laundry list of prosecutorial missteps, errors, and - Collins claims - outright misconduct. Among his claims:

• A secret meeting was held between the prosecution and medical examiners to convince them that the victims died of heatstroke instead of toxins released inside the steamy sweat lodge;

• A doctor who had no qualifications to determine the cause of death of the victims - he is an osteopath, not a medical doctor - testified, based on research he had done on websites Wikipedia and eMedicine, that toxins could not have been the cause;

• A prosecution witness who, it turned out, would have said the design of the sweat lodge itself was at fault was dropped. The defense was told he had not prepared a report to that effect, when he had;

• The state failed to disclose to the defense its "theory of the crime," a constitutional right, in a timely fashion.

Collins asked the Court of Appeals to reverse the judgment or dismiss the indictment with prejudice, meaning it could not be refiled, or to order a new trial.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who prosecuted the case, said, "We have not received a copy of the appeal but the (Arizona) Attorney General will be handling it. This is by statute, and we have full confidence in that office."

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Related Stories:
• Editorial: Appeal continues pattern of James Ray not accepting responsibility
• Judge settles final issue in James Arthur Ray case
• James Ray withdraws indigency claim
• SWEAT LODGE APPEAL: Issues arise over Ray's claim of indigence
• Ray claims indigence as state cross-appeals

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012
Article comment by: go away aleady

Oh, shut up and serve your time. Be a man for crying out loud. You are a idiot and deserve a lot more than two years. those who lost their lives and their family will serve a life time. I'm am tired of your crying. Just go away

Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012
Article comment by: Two cents

This guy did not have the expertise or knowledge about constructing a proper sweat lodge, yet he did know how to bully people into staying through a spiritual cleansing even though there were people asking to leave the enclosure. He did not have doctors on hand even though there were people representing all ages. He did not ask for help from any of the native americans that obviously knew more about sweat lodges and time limits. He even completely closed off any ventilation that would have let the heat dissipate to some extent. How can anyone defend this self proclaimed guru? Only two years and he is appealing that? He should feel a lot more remorse for the lives lost that he was ultimately responsible for.

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Crime wave

There were recordings of what went on during those sweat lodge cleansings, he was in charge and he used his influence and peer pressure to bully people into staying even after they asked to leave.
Native Americans even said the lodge was not constructed right and that they never should have expected people unfamiliar with the "sweating" to stay in so long especially with no ventilation. He was doing something he had no training for and people died. Two years isn't long enough for this "snakeoil charleton"

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Fare Play

There was no marijuana involved so he will do a couple of months and then be released.

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Gaia Gurl

Yes, we should FEED, clothe, provide SHELTER and healthcare for at LEAST 50 years to a man who was involved in an ACCIDENT. A poor, unfortunate, ACCIDENT.

Where is the PERSONAL responsibility for the victims?

If you jump off of a BRIDGE, we should hold the bridge builder RESPONSIBLE?

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Two years is not enough

For true justice to be served, this man will be imprisoned for more than two years.

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