U.S. self-help guru jailed over sweat lodge deaths

Best­selling author asks fam­i­lies for for­give­ness

Ottawa Citizen - - WORLD -

PHOENIX, Ari­zona • A self-help guru con­victed of neg­li­gent homi­cide for the deaths of three peo­ple at a “Spir­i­tual War­rior” sweat lodge ther­apy ses­sion was jailed for two years Fri­day.

James Arthur Ray was con­victed in June on three counts of neg­li­gent homi­cide in Yava­pai County Su­pe­rior Court in con­nec­tion with the deaths.

Ray was found not guilty of the more se­ri­ous charges of man­slaugh­ter over the deaths, which oc­curred af­ter 60 peo­ple were packed into a sweat lodge for two hours af­ter a 36-hour fast.

Ray op­er­ated a re­treat in the Ari­zona tourist city of Se­dona, where par­tic­i­pants took part in a gru­elling sweat lodge cer­e­mony that claimed the lives of James Shore, Liz Neu­man and Kirby Brown in 2009.

A Yava­pai County judge handed down a two-year sen­tence for each of the three counts, to be served con­cur­rently.

The sweat lodge was heated to such high tem­per­a­tures that it caused se­vere heat stroke and de­hy­dra­tion among par­tic­i­pants, who came from across the U.S. to take part in Ray’s pro­gram, which promised them a new level of con­scious­ness.

Ray’s at­tor­neys ar­gued the deaths were a tragic mis­take, not a crime. But pros­e­cu­tors said the self-help guru’s tech­nique was reck­less and the deaths could have been avoided.

Pros­e­cu­tors also said Ray did not at­tempt to mon­i­tor tem­per­a­tures in­side the sweat lodge and was un­re­spon­sive to par­tic­i­pants’ com­plaints of ill­ness and ex­ces­sive tem­per­a­tures.

Best-sell­ing author Ray, pres­i­dent of the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar James Ray In­ter­na­tional com­pany in Cal­i­for­nia, was ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary 2010 close to the re­treat where the fa­tal cer­e­mony was held.

Ray, a mo­ti­va­tional speaker, was fea­tured in the pop­u­lar self help book The Se­cret and his own book, Har­monic Wealth, was on the New York Times best­seller list.

Be­fore the sen­tenc­ing, Ray spoke to the court, turn­ing from the lectern to speak di­rectly to fam­ily mem­bers of those who died. His voice of­ten trailed off as he held back tears. Many of the fam­ily mem­bers gath­ered in the court­room stared in­tently back at him as he spoke.

“I’m so sorry for the pain and the an­guish that this sit­u­a­tion has brought to your lives. I know that noth­ing I can say or do is enough. I un­der­stand that,” he said dur­ing the tele­vised pro­ceed­ing.

“There’s not one sin­gle day that passes that I don’t re­live the mo­ments of that night, ask­ing what did I miss, what could I have done dif­fer­ently?”

He con­tin­ued: “I didn’t know, I didn’t know that any­one was dy­ing. I would have stopped im­me­di­ately had I known.”

Still fight­ing back tears, he added, “I could only ask, maybe, for for­give­ness.”

JOSHUA LOTT, REUTERS

James Ray re­acts dur­ing his sen­tenc­ing at the Yava­pai County Su­pe­rior Court in Prescott, Ari­zona, on Fri­day. He had been con­victed of three counts of neg­li­gent homi­cide.

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