Self-help guru given two years in Arizona sweat lodge deaths
An Arizona judge Friday sentenced James Arthur Ray, a bestselling author and self-help guru, to two years in prison for the deaths of three clients overcome by heat during a sweat lodge ceremony.
In June, a jury convicted Ray of three counts of negligent homicide but acquitted him of the more serious charge of manslaughter. Ray was given two years in prison for each count, to be served concurrently.
The jury had found that Ray was criminally negligent in subjecting Kirby Brown, Liz Neuman and James Shore to life-threatening conditions at a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” session in 2009.
Before handing down the sentence, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow told Ray that probation was not warranted in this case.
“Mr. Ray, when a person has your incredible abilities to gain people’s trust, there is a large responsibility with that trust,” he said. “They placed their trust and that was violated.”
Ray was also ordered to pay more than $57,000 in restitution to the victims' families.
Before the sentencing Ray spoke to the court, turning from the lectern to speak directly to family members of those who died. His voice often trailed off as he held back tears. Many of the family members gathered in the central Arizona courtroom stared intently back at him as he spoke.
“I’m so sorry for the pain and the anguish that this situation has brought to your lives. I know that nothing I can say or do is enough. I understand that,” he said during the televised proceeding. “There’s not one single day that passes that I don’t relive the moments of that night, asking what did I miss, what could I have done differently?"
He continued: “I didn’t know, I didn’t know that anyone was dying. I would have stopped immediately had I known."
Still fighting back tears, he added, “I could only ask, maybe, for forgiveness.”
-- Stephen Ceasar
Photo: Self-help author James Arthur Ray, right, sits with one of his attorneys, Thomas Kelly, during a pre-sentencing hearing at Yavapai County Courthouse this month. Credit: Michael Schennum / Pool