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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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6/7/2011 9:57:00 PM
Sweat lodge trial: Defense case begins as judge denies motion to acquit

Mark Duncan
City Editor


CAMP VERDE - After making his way through more than 100 pages of briefs and hearing nearly three hours of oral arguments, Judge Warren Darrow on Tuesday denied a defense motion for acquittal in the manslaughter trial of motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray.

Darrow ruled quickly from the bench after defense attorney Luis Li and prosecutors Sheila Polk and Bill Hughes presented their cases. Li argued that the state had not provided evidence to prove any of the elements of the manslaughter charges stemming from the October 2009 deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman.

Fundamental to the defense argument was the contention that the state had not shown that Ray had a duty to protect the participants in the sweat lodge ceremony that was the climactic event of his Spiritual Warrior seminar at the Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center near Sedona. Citing case law, Li maintained that Ray's duty "must be so firmly established as to be beyond controversy or dispute," and that any such duty owed by his client would be more appropriate in a civil venue.

Hughes countered that Ray's duty "arose when he first became aware that there was a problem," and Darrow, in voicing his denial of the motion, noted that evidence of Ray's duty to the participants came out in testimony about the price participants paid - around $10,000 each - to take part in the seminar.

Darrow also said there was "substantial evidence" that Ray was aware of problems in the sweat lodge, as well as in previous events, and that expert witness Dr. Matthew Dickson had provided evidence upon which a juror could rely as proof that the victims died from heatstroke.

Arizona procedural rules require that a judge view a motion for acquittal in a light favorable to the state. His denial of the motion, then, does not mean he necessarily believes the state has proven Ray's guilt, but only that it has provided evidence that meets legal criteria for the elements of the charges, to which Ray has pleaded not guilty.

After the ruling, the defense called its first witness, Department of Public Safety criminalist Dawn Sy, who earlier was to have been a witness for the state.

Defense attorney Truc Do questioned Sy on her role in testing the evidence that YCSO investigators provided from the crime scene. In particular, she asked if Sy had noted that the presence of traces of 2ethyl-1hexanol in samples of the sweat lodge coverings indicated the possible presence of organophosphate-based pesticides.

Sy allowed that she had not even considered the question of organophosphates, which the defense has raised as a possible contributing factor in the three deaths, until she received a call during the trial from the prosecutors' office broaching the topic. She said that tests for the toxins were possible, but more readily performed if it was known what particular form of the compound was in question.

And when Do asked if she could estimate how much of the chemical could be present, Sy replied that would be a difficult, if not impossible task.

"To extrapolate," she said, "you would... essentially have to rebuild the sweat lodge."

Do pointed out that investigators had allowed the Angel Valley owners to dismantle and destroy the sweat lodge just two days after the ill-fated ceremony. But Sy said that even had the entire sweat lodge been left standing, the conditions would have been far different.

"I probably would not have (advised them to preserve the structure)," she said, "because at that point the sweat lodge would have cooled off. There would be many things you would need to know that I wouldn't."

Testimony is to continue June 8 with an as-yet-unidentified defense witness taking the stand.




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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011
Article comment by: Merlene Bishop

I am appalled at the comments in favor of Ray. This is an example of "people unclear on the concept". The medical examiner reported that the deaths were from heat stroke. Another issue being ignored here: most sweat lodge ceremonies are FOUR rounds long, and any participant feeling physically uncomfortable is ENCOURAGED to leave by the RESPONSIBLE person conducting the ceremony.

Posted: Thursday, June 09, 2011
Article comment by: Jennifer laverona

Wow, this is news to me. I didn't know that all the people at that workshop legally promised to hold James Arthur Ray harmless...
"...from all liability to the undersigned for any loss or damage, and any claim or demands therefore on account of injury to the undersigned's person (whether physical, emotional, psychological or otherwise) or property or resulting in death."


Posted: Thursday, June 09, 2011
Article comment by: To Fife

You sure about that? Did they sign a release absolving Ray of any and all consequences including death? I bet not. If so why is he on trial here?
MY RESPONSE:
I have just proven to you that YOU have lost your bet
PAY UP!


Posted: Thursday, June 09, 2011
Article comment by: Paging Barney Fife

What is it about negligence that you don't get? By signing that waiver they did not agree to participate in an unsafe sweat lodge. You agreed that it was unsafe, otherwise 3 persons wouldn't have died. The scene after they evacuated the lodge was like a battleground, there were many people hurting and sick. Angel Valley build the thing, but Ray ushered the people in there and bragged that they were in for some big time pain and heat. And they died. That's the definition of negligence, which is what he's on trial for. He was responsible for the conditions in there. Maybe they'll let him have some Spiritual Warrior sessions in prison.

Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: To Paging Barney Fife

"Hughes countered that Ray's duty "arose when he first became aware that there was a problem," and Darrow, in voicing his denial of the motion, noted that evidence of Ray's duty to the participants came out in testimony about the price participants paid - around $10,000 each - to take part in the seminar."
MY RESPONSE:
This is a court trial and the only "legal duty" Mr Ray had was to abide by what was in the:
JAMES ARTHUR RAY - SEDONA'S "SPIRITUAL WARRIOR PARTICIPANT GUIDE"
Those who refused to sign the document would not be allowed to participate in the activities. Their money would not be accepted. The people paid the money and agreed to the terms in the Sedona Warrior Participant Guide. Mr Ray's LEGAL DUTY was to uphold his end of the agreement.
"Arizona procedural rules require that a judge view a motion for acquittal in a light favorable to the state."
MY RESPONSE:
Here is the whole problem with this trial. It should say 'IN A LIGHT FAVORABLE TO THE TRUTH'
Obviously the state of Arizona considers its interests superior to the truth. Thus the whole problem with this trial.
The state of Arizona also wants a verdict favorable to the state, right? They want the attorney's THEY ARE PAYING to convict Mr Ray. They are not concerned with the truth. What they are concerned with is a judgment favorable to the state.
This is the core of the whole problem with this trial! The state considers itself superior to the truth!
Read the terms of the legal document the participants signed and you will know just exactly what Mr Ray's LEGAL duties were to the participants.


Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: To Paging Barney Fife

"Mr. Ray is in deep trouble, and I'll tell you why: 3 PEOPLE DIED in the sweat lodge that he designed, fed with hot stones for 2 hours, and supervised. It will be concluded that they died because it was too hot in there, and they were in there too long."

MY RESPONSE:

Get your facts straight. Mr Ray did NOT design that sweat lodge!

It was NOT too hot for most of the people because most suffered no adverse reactions

Certain people freely chose to stay too long in the sweat lodge. It was THEIR FREE CHOICE, not Mr Ray's

Angel Valley should have been regulating the use of THEIR SWEAT LODGE. If they felt it was too hot in the sweat lodge THEY ARE THE ONES who should have denied Mr Ray putting more hot rocks into it!

I have already provided excerpts from the legal document the participants of the workshop signed.

Copy and paste this into a search engine and see for yourself:

JAMES ARTHUR RAY - SEDONA'S "SPIRITUAL WARRIOR PARTICIPANT GUIDE"


Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: To Dream Team???

"This sweat lodge was unsafe and deadly"

MY RESPONSE:

You're absolutely correct. Fortunate for Mr Ray that he didn't design or build the sweat lodge. That was Angel Valley's responsibility and Ted Mercer helped to make that sweat lodge practically airtight! Angel Valley is GUILTY AS HELL!


Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: To Dream Team???

"JAMES ARTHUR RAY - SEDONA'S "SPIRITUAL WARRIOR PARTICIPANT GUIDE"
October 3-8, 2009

EXCERPT:

SPIRITUAL WARRIOR RELEASE, WAIVER OF LIABILITY, ASSUMPTION OF RISK, INDEMNITY AGREEMENT AND DISCLAIMER

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY. BY SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT YOU ARE WAIVING ALL RIGHTS TO COMPENSATION IN CASE OF INJURY.

...from all liability to the undersigned for any loss or damage, and any claim or demands therefore on account of injury to the undersigned's person (whether physical, emotional, psychological or otherwise) or property or resulting in death"

*If they didn't want to agree to these terms they were not forced to sign.

If the Dream Team told Mr Ray people were dying he would have done something. The Dream Team didn't know. The three people who eventually died said they were fine. They didn't even know. How was Mr Ray supposed to know they were dying?

MOST suffered no adverse reactions to the sweat lodge.

REMEMBER THAT FACT!


Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: Dream Team???

What does that have to do with this trial? Nada.
"Everyone who participated was LEGALLY responsible for their own actions if they chose to participate."
You sure about that? Did they sign a release absolving Ray of any and all consequences including death? I bet not. If so why is he on trial here?
This sweat lodge was unsafe and deadly. And he's Sweatlodge Ray, the man with the plan. Gonna save your life baby. Or not.


Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: Paging Barney Fife

Mr. Ray is in deep trouble, and I'll tell you why: 3 PEOPLE DIED in the sweat lodge that he designed, fed with hot stones for 2 hours, and supervised. It will be concluded that they died because it was too hot in there, and they were in there too long. I know you'll say "if they couldn't stand the heat why didn't they get out of the kitchen?". Well that's not the way this works. You get hot, you lose your ability to think clearly, to move out, and then you die. And by the way, nobody on the "Dream Team" was charged. Ray was, as it should be. He sat by the door, which was pretty smart on his part.

Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: To Barney Fife

Oh really? Witnesses testified that Mr Ray sat by the door counting his money? YOU'RE A LIAR!!!

Mr Ray was in charge of the workshop. Everyone who participated was LEGALLY responsible for their own actions if they chose to participate.

Mr Ray's dream team was there to let him know if there were any problems in the sweat lodge. He trusted them more than the participants to know whether or not there was any real danger and if anyone was actually dying.

The participants were asked and they said they were fine. Mr Ray's Dream Team was not concerned enough to do anything.

NO ONE HAD A CLUE James Shore was going to die after the 8th round. He was perfectly fine during the 7th round as he tried to help Kirby Brown. James Shore obviously didn't think Kirby Brown was dying. How could Mr Ray know those people were dying when no one else knew?

They said they were fine and wanted to stay!


Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: Paging Barney Fife

Dawn, you drink the same Kool Aid that Mr.Ray drinks. He was IN CHARGE of a potentially dangerous venue: a small room full of people that was really, really hot for 2 hours. What did he do? He sat by the door and counted his money. He didn't do jack to supervise what was going on in there. The people lost consciousness and died because of that unsafe venue. Wait and see, he'll be found guilty by a jury of his peers. Just wait.

Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: Dawn Meyers

Okay, people asked those three who eventually died if they were okay and they said they were. If Mr Ray had asked them they would have said the same thing. I don't see how it would make a difference. Those three would still have died. Somehow I'm left with the impression, from this article, that if Mr Ray had directly asked those three it would have made some difference in Mr Ray's favor. I sense it would have done just the opposite. The prosecution would have twisted it against him.
We've got a situation here where the state of Arizona is either directly or indirectly paying the judge, the prosecuting attorneys and the jury to be in that courtroom. It seem there is a conflict of interests in this case. Because the state of Arizona is paying everyone off to rule against Mr Ray I don't see how he can possibly get a fair trial.


Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Article comment by: Paging Barney Fife

Defense drinking from the old "there could have been toxins" straw once again. If that's all they have going for them I think Mr. Ray had better get fitted for some pink underwear soon.



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