Hearing called off in Arizona sweat lodge case

AP News
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Posted: Sep 19, 2011 6:29 PM
Hearing called off in Arizona sweat lodge case

Supporters of a self-help author convicted in the deaths of three people after an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony will have to wait to testify in an effort to convince a judge that James Arthur Ray deserves a lenient sentence.

Defense attorney Tom Kelly is being treated for a heart condition he suffered over the weekend, his family said, prompting the cancellation of a weeklong hearing that was supposed to start Monday.

"He is in good spirits, surrounded by family and friends, and looks forward to returning to work soon," the family said in a statement.

Ray's attorneys have lined up 19 people to testify on his behalf and submitted more than 135 letters Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow to consider at sentencing. The witnesses include Ray's mother and brother, who often were in the courtroom during his four-month trial, colleagues in the self-help industry, and his former financial controller.

Ray faces anything from probation to nine years in prison after a jury in June found him guilty of three counts of negligent homicide.

This week's hearing hasn't been rescheduled. Ray was scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 26, and it's unclear whether that will go forward as planned.

Darrow would use the testimony during the mitigation and pre-sentencing hearing to determine how long Ray, who led dozens of people in the ceremony near Sedona in October 2009, could spend in prison. Ray has no prior convictions.

Of the people who became ill during the two-hour ceremony, James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, and Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., were pronounced dead shortly after it ended. Liz Neuman, 48, of Prior Lake, Minn., never regained consciousness and died more than a week later. Eighteen others were hospitalized, but some participants reported no major problems.

Ray touted the ceremony as the highlight of his five-day "Spiritual Warrior" retreat. It was meant to be a re-birth for participants.

Prosecutors said they would call Brown's mother and six other people to the stand to rebut the testimony of defense witnesses.

A woman who wrote a book about her life in Ray's inner circle, the lead detective in the case, and a corporate risk management expert are on the prosecution's list.