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7/19/2012 10:03:00 PM
James Arthur Ray appeals sweat lodge conviction
Claims judge gave jury faulty instructions, state broke rules
The Associated Press, file
James Arthur Ray listens to testimony during his criminal trial March 17, 2011, in Camp Verde.
The Associated Press, file
James Arthur Ray listens to testimony during his criminal trial March 17, 2011, in Camp Verde.
Scott Orr
The Daily Courier

PHOENIX - James Arthur Ray, sentenced to two years in prison after a sweat lodge ceremony he led in 2009 resulted in the deaths of three participants, has appealed his conviction on the grounds that the judge gave the jury instructions that violated Arizona law and the prosecution engaged in "misconduct."

Ray, a well-known motivational speaker and author, was in November 2011 found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, who died from heat-related trauma they suffered while taking part in a sweat lodge ceremony Ray was leading at a spiritual retreat center near Sedona. Ray was sentenced to three two-year prison sentences, to be served concurrently. In addition, he was ordered to pay $57,514 in restitution to the families of the victims and a fine of $20,000 plus an 84 percent surcharge, totaling $36,800.

The 98-page brief, filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals, claims this instruction, given to the jury by then-Yavapai Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow, is the centerpiece of its appeal:

"'Omission' means the failure to perform an act as to which a duty of performance is imposed by law. The only duty you may consider in this case is whether the defendant has violated the manslaughter statutes, or, if appropriate, negligent homicide statutes as defined in these instructions."

Writing in the brief, attorney Daniel Collins said, "Ray is entitled to a new trial because the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on omissions, and then compounded that error by defining 'duty' in a manner squarely prohibited by settled Arizona case law."

Essentially, this argument says that, if a defendant is to be found guilty of negligent homicide because of omissions, or things he did not do, the state has to prove that he failed "to perform a duty imposed by law."

Collins argued that, if there was a duty at all, it would have been with James Ray International Inc., which failed to have enough medical personnel at the scene, didn't have a defibrillator, inadequate training, and failed to require medical exams for the participants.

Ray's lawyers had asked Darrow to instruct the jury that "if you conclude that James Ray International, the corporation, engaged in wrongful conduct, you may not consider that as evidence of Mr. Ray's guilt of the crimes or for any purpose," but Darrow refused.

The brief offers a laundry list of prosecutorial missteps, errors, and - Collins claims - outright misconduct. Among his claims:

• A secret meeting was held between the prosecution and medical examiners to convince them that the victims died of heatstroke instead of toxins released inside the steamy sweat lodge;

• A doctor who had no qualifications to determine the cause of death of the victims - he is an osteopath, not a medical doctor - testified, based on research he had done on websites Wikipedia and eMedicine, that toxins could not have been the cause;

• A prosecution witness who, it turned out, would have said the design of the sweat lodge itself was at fault was dropped. The defense was told he had not prepared a report to that effect, when he had;

• The state failed to disclose to the defense its "theory of the crime," a constitutional right, in a timely fashion.

Collins asked the Court of Appeals to reverse the judgment or dismiss the indictment with prejudice, meaning it could not be refiled, or to order a new trial.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who prosecuted the case, said, "We have not received a copy of the appeal but the (Arizona) Attorney General will be handling it. This is by statute, and we have full confidence in that office."

Related Stories:
• James Ray withdraws indigency claim
• Top Stories of 2011: #3 - Spiritual leader James Arthur Ray takes a long, slow fall
• James Arthur Ray will serve 2 years in prison for sweat lodge deaths
• Victim statements carry weight in Ray pre-sentence proceedings

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Article comment by: Randy Storm

I have to say that when a representative of the families openly said to James Arthur Ray, in court, that the three who died were greater spiritual warriors than James Arthur Ray would ever be THEY BLEW IT!!! Great spiritual warriors take responsibility for their actions and if they promise to do so they don't need to sign ANY AGREEMENT to keep their promises. It was THEIR CHOICE to go into the sweat lodge and stay there and yet...

Another white man treaty was broken, those supposedly "great spiritual warriors", were made to look like dishonorable liars and James Arthur Ray is still in jail

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2012
Article comment by: Are you Kidding me

James Ray IS James Ray International!!!!!

Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012
Article comment by: Put a leash on these people

Both the motivational speakers and the fools who follow them.

(AP) Fire officials in California say at least 21 people were treated for burns after attendees of an event for motivational speaker Tony Robbins tried to walk on hot coals. At least three people went to a hospital and most suffered second- or third-degree burns, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Robbins was hosting a four-day gathering called "Unleash the Power Within" at the San Jose Convention Center.

Witnesses say a crowd went to a park on Thursday where 12 lanes of hot coals were on the grass. (Robbins' website promotes "The Firewalk Experience," in which people walk on super-heated coals.) Witness Jonathan Correll says he heard "screams of agony." Fire Capt. Reggie Williams says organizers had an open fire permit and emergency personnel were on standby.

Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012
Article comment by: Real RN

Sure, let's hold a corporation responsible for the heartless inanition of James Ray. God forbid he should be held accountable for his heartlessness, which directly lead to the deaths of these people.

I'm sure you well know, Local M.D., that D.O.'s get nearly the identical education and do their specialty training at the same medical centers as M.D.'s. Except somehow their programs manage to instill a caring bedside manner.

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: river tripper

@Bill Williams
No, what "does not matter" is that Mr. Ray may win the appeal because of some technical mistake or not. The victory for the people is that everyone now knows how Mr. Ray behaves in a crisis where people's lives are involved. An appeal and it's outcome will not change that.

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Bill Williams

Yes, Sheila, you messed up again it's against the code to not allow exculpatory evidence in to trial. Back to Walgreens for you. You just can't keep evidence such as "poisonous toxins were in the tent" OUT. Dear missinformed opiners: Sheila had evidence that toxins were in the tent because during the "off season", the tents are sprayed with varmint and bug spray and stored, folded. When those toxins are heated, according to EXPERTS, they create gasses that can kill. But she and her buddy Darrow (otherwise known as "I'll resign in disgrace over the DeMocker Trial Darrow") conspired to keep the evdience out.
Another reason we need a top to bottom audit and review of the Court, the Public Defender and the Prosecutor Money System.
We'll call it the Prescott C.P.D.P. "bank."
And "Bozo", we're glad you are an attorney to explain to us how "expert witness" is defined. Do you realize many courts are keeping psychologists OUT because they don't have the training that psychiatrists do?
"Hooty Hoo" - factually incorrect.
"I want a do over" - factually incorrect. See "Gus Patrick's" misspelled sentence.
"River Tripper" - it does not matter, if Sheila violated code, regulation or law, and Darrow did not read jury instructions correctly - Ray's rights were violated. Welcome to Yavapai County.
We should rename this place "Missinformation County."

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Local MD

Glad to see someone put in print what we have been saying for years: MD or you shouldn't be called a doctor.

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Bozo the Clown

The defense lawyer claims outright misconduct because: A doctor who had no qualifications to determine the cause of death of the victims - he is an osteopath, not a medical doctor - testified, based on research he had done on websites Wikipedia and eMedicine, that toxins could not have been the cause

Is this lawyer for real? Because he's an osteopath (D.O.) has no qualifications to determine a cause of death? If this were my lawyer I'd lock the front door. He actually put that in writing, to a judge? ...

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Gus Patrick

To bad at a retrial you can't get a stiffer sentence!

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

He got only 2 years, which IMO was light. He crammed like 50 people in that little space, heated it way up, and sat himself right by the door calling them wimps if they wanted outside. That sounds like negligence to me. They called the DO "not a real doctor"? Is this a real lawyer? Honestly.

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012
Article comment by: River Tripper

Let him appeal, that's his right. The fact remains is that Mr. Ray "left the ship" while his passengers were dying or in great danger and he did nothing to help them. No appeal can make that go away.

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012
Article comment by: I Want A Do Over

I think Ray got off way too easy and I hope the appellate court throws out the verdict and remands the case back to trial. I don't think the next judge would be such a pushover as Darrow was. I have little doubt that another YC jury will find Ray guilty and this time he will be sentenced appropriately.

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