James Arthur Ray, a self help author was convicted on three counts of negligent homicide Wednesday. Ray had led a deadly sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona, in October of 2009. Three people died following the sauna-like ceremony meant to provide spiritual cleansing.
After a 4 month long trial, it only took juror’s less then 10 hours to come to their decision. The eight men and four women were given the option of convicting Ray of manslaughter but decided on the lesser charge instead. He faces a sentence ranging from probation to nearly 12 years in prison.
Including the 3 deaths, eighteen were hospitalized, while several others were given water to cool down at the scene. After the ceremony that ended in chaos, with participants vomiting, shaking and being dragged outside. Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed over whether the deaths and illnesses were caused by heat or toxins.
Ray used the sweat lodge as a way for participants to break through whatever was holding them back in life. He warned participants in a recording of the event played during the trial that the sweat lodge would be “hellacious” and that participants were guaranteed to feel like they were dying but would do so only metaphorically.
“The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore, has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you’ll ever experience is the fear of what? Death,” Ray said in the recording. “You will have to get a point to where you surrender, and it’s OK to die.”
Two participants, Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died upon arrival at a hospital. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., slipped into a coma and died more than a week later at a Flagstaff hospital. Ray fought back emotion as the verdict was read. His parents and brother sat behind him, while victims’ friends and family members held hands and looked on from across the courtroom. He faces a sentence ranging from probation to nearly 12 years in prison.
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