Judge denies mistrial request in sweat lodge case


by Kristine Harrington


Posted on April 13, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 14 at 12:39 PM

CAMP VERDE, Ariz. - A self-help guru’s manslaughter trial will continue next week after a judge refused to declare a mistrial despite finding that prosecutors broke a disclosure rule when they failed to turn over documents to the defense.

“The state was aware of exculpatory information suggesting another cause of death, suggesting another party possibly responsible, and did nothing with it," said Luis Li, James Ray’s defense attorney. "They shared it with nobody.”

At issue is the omission of an email from environmental investigator Richard Haddow, once listed as an expert witness for the state.

His email identifies the design of the sweat lodge, the rock pit’s location, the airtight structure, the radiant heat and carbon dioxide as contributing factors to the deaths of sweat lodge participants Kirby Brown, Liz Neuman and James Shore.

Li said the failure to disclose this information has changed everything about this trial. He said this information would have been used in his opening statement and would have been used on cross-examination of witnesses.

“There's no way to say how every ruling might have been different and no way to turn back the clock,” Li said.

The defense requested the information four different times and the state never responded until just recently. The state said that was an accident.

“The state disclosed 8,000 pages and believed this email disclosed, but it was not," said Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Bill Hughes.

The state said other witnesses have already testified making the same points. It’s why they’ve decided not to call Haddow.

“That info in Mr. Haddow's report is cumulative to or in addition to information already available,” Hughes said. “If the defense wants to call Mr. Haddow as an expert witness they certainly can do that.”

The defense said it’s a little late for that now that it’s 29 days into trial. They said the prosecution’s year-long failure to disclose the environmental scientist’s email meant they couldn’t adequately prepare a defense. They call the failure to disclose a Brady violation.

“Brady is a due process violation and failure to disclose is a constitutional violation,” Li said.

Judge Warren Darrow agrees.

“I do find there was a Brady violation the question is the proper remedy.”

The judge has ruled against the defense motion for a mistrial. There is no word on what if any sanctions may be ordered against the state for the violation.

Ray has pleaded not guilty in the deaths of three people following a 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat that culminated in a sweat lodge ceremony he led near Sedona.

On Thursday, the judge postponed the case until next week. Ray's attorneys argued for the delay so they can conduct interviews related to the construction of the sweat lodge.