Sweat lodge trial closing arguments continue


by Kristine Harrington


Posted on June 16, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 17 at 8:50 AM

SEDONA, Ariz. – Closing arguments continue in Yavapai County where self-help guru James Arthur Ray is on trial for manslaughter after three people died in his 2009 sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona.

“Kirby, James and Liz all arrived at Angel Valley Resort full of hope and life but when Mr. Ray took it upon himself to do this extreme event, when Mr. Ray intentionally used heat to create an altered mental state telling participants to push through the pain in order to have a breakthrough, Mr. Ray senselessly and recklessly snuffed out the lives Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman,” said Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

The prosecution says Ray didn’t mean to kill the three participants but he also didn’t do anything to help them, ignoring people’s suffering and instead bringing in more rocks, more water, creating more heat and more steam.

“He didn't intend for them to die,” said Yavapai County attorney Sheila Polk. “But he intended to use that heat to take them to the edge of death so they would have this extreme mental experience and think they were getting something for their $10,000.”

Polk says James Ray spent five days over the course of the “Spiritual Warrior Retreat” conditioning the participants to trust in his judgment over their own.

“According to Beverly Bunn and others testimony, Mr. Ray told them it was okay to pass out inside the sweat lodge and that they would be taken care of,” Polk said.

The state asked jurors to consider whether Shore, Brown and Neuman would be alive today if not for Ray's conduct.

“Think how different things could have been if when Sydney was dragged out after sixth round he'd stopped the event,” Polk said. “Then ask why he did not. There lies the evidence of why James Ray is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of manslaughter.”

The defense argues that every participant had free will and could come and go as they liked.

“People decided not to go in the sweat lodge,” said defense attorney Luis Li. “People went in and came back out. James Shore himself helped people out and he chose to come back in.”

The defense contends authorities failed to investigate other potential causes of death such as toxins or poisons and quotes the medical examiner’s testimony.

“Mr. Lyon said it's 51 to 49 percent. You can't rule out organophosphates. It's 51…49 percent,” Li said. “Not a single person had a severely elevated temperature. No one was near 104, 105, 106 the mark for heat stroke.”

Li asks the jury to consider this and acquit. “The government has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Ray or anyone knew people were dying.”

Closing arguments will continue Friday. The jury is asked to consider first the three counts of manslaughter.

If they don't find James Ray guilty, then the jury can consider the lesser charges of negligent homicide.