U.S. self-help guru jailed over sweat lodge deaths
Bestselling author asks families for forgiveness
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.”
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.