Guru guilty of causing emotional harm in sweatlodge deaths

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2011 8:13 PM
Guru guilty of causing emotional harm in sweatlodge deaths

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A jury found self-help guru James Ray guilty on Thursday of causing emotional harm to the families of three people who died following a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona nearly two years ago.

Ray had already been found guilty of negligent homicide last week in the deaths of James Shore, Liz Neuman and Kirby Brown, who attended a personal growth seminar near Sedona, Arizona, in 2009.

But the jury at Yavapai County Superior Court had been weighing aggravating factors expected to help determine sentencing, including whether Ray caused emotional harm to the families of the victims, held a unique position of trust with the victims, or expected to benefit financially from their deaths.

The dead were among 56 participants who paid nearly $10,000 each to take part in Ray's "spiritual warrior" retreat, and were crammed into a four-foot tall sweat lodge, packed with superheated rocks, at the ceremony.

Shore, 40, and Brown, 38, were pronounced dead at the scene, and Neuman, 49, died several days later at a hospital in Flagstaff.

The jurors found on Thursday that Ray had caused emotional harm to the families of all three who died, and had violated a unique position of trust with Neuman.

They were unable to reach a decision on the other factors, judicial assistant Diane Troxell said.

Ray remains free on a $525,000 bond, pending sentencing set for July 25 at 3 p.m. local time.

Negligent homicide is a class four felony. Ray faces a sentence ranging from probation to a jail term of between one and 3.75 years on each count. Judge Warren R. Darrow will determine if the terms run concurrently or consecutively.

The fatal sweat lodge ceremony cut short Ray's meteoric rise in the personal development industry. This had included appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN's Larry King Live, according to Ray's website.

The day after the deaths, television news images of the sweat dome showed a low, windowless structure, covered in black roofing material, a far cry from the aura of glamour and wealth portrayed by the lucrative industry.

Sweat or medicine lodges -- smaller domed or oblong structures warmed with heated stones -- have traditionally been used in ceremonies by some Native American cultures

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Cynthia Johnston)