Self-help guru takes next step in long comeback after 2009 sweat lodge deaths

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James Arthur Ray - then and now. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) James Arthur Ray - then and now. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Aftermath seen in the hours after the 2009 sweat lodge ceremony. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Aftermath seen in the hours after the 2009 sweat lodge ceremony. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Self-help guru James Arthur Ray, who served two years in prison for three deaths in a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona, is fighting to get his civil rights restored.

Ray will be back in a Yavapai County courtroom Tuesday in an attempt to get his conviction set aside, marking the next step of his long comeback.

Dozens of his followers overheated and became sick and three people died in the 2009 ceremony. Ray, then a prominent figure in the self-help industry, was overseeing the retreat.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what I could have done differently,” Ray said in a TV interview Monday.

Many blamed Ray and accused him of pressuring people to remain in the tarp-covered structure even though they were sick.

“It’s a tremendous burden to bear and I’ll never, ever forget that, obviously,” Ray said.

Courtroom testimony alleged that instead of answering some participants' pleas for help, Ray pushed them further, encouraging them to tough out the sweltering conditions as part of a rebirthing process that would transform their lives.

Ray was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to six years in prison -- two for each victim. A judge allowed the sentence to be served concurrently, meaning Ray would serve two years. He ended up serving 20 months.

“The point is is that we all get hit by life,” Ray said on the eve of another court appearance. “None of us is immune. So what I’m attempting to do now is help people pick themselves back up after going through what I’ve gone through to have the resilience to continue.”

Ray says while he’s taken responsibility for his actions, he hopes the public will see his return as a way to confront their own personal challenges.

“I have done everything asked of me and I have repented, I have asked for forgiveness, I’ve served everything the State has asked me to serve,” Ray said.

“I’m struggling and pushing through and I’m encouraging you to do the same,” he added.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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