Breaking: James Arthur Ray Found Guilty of Negligent Homicide

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 22, 2011 — 15 Comments

Local and national media are reporting that the jury in the James Arthur Ray trial has convicted the self-help guru of negligent homicide in the deaths of three participants in a sweat lodge ceremony held in 2009 at a Sedona resort. Ray was not found guilty of the more serious charge of manslaughter. He faces a possible prison sentence of up to 11 years.

Video footage of closing remarks.

“Jurors deliberated a bit less than eight hours over two days. They began deliberating Tuesday, 16 weeks to the day after the trial began March 1 in Yavapai County Superior Court. […]  Juror questions to the two Arizona medical examiners testifying for the prosecution ranged from what advice one would give people about to participate in a sweat-lodge event to whether a body could sweat properly in a highly humid environment, to how much organophosphates it would take to kill someone in two hours. Jurors asked various witnesses who took part in the event how it compared to previous sweat lodges, how much hotter it was and whether Ray helped people after the ceremony.”

This is big news, and I’ll be providing both Native and Pagan reactions to this decision soon.

ADDENDUM: Here’s video of the verdict being read.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • I find that decision satisfactory. And once again we see the problem of stealing from indigenous culture. We as Pagans need to reject such behaviors and gurus. And when we have our own parallel actions, like saunas and Irish sweats, we need to watch how we present them and perform them. Those deaths were preventable. Ray didn’t do the work.

  • Eat it, Ray; there’s no attracting yourself out of this one.

  • Kan

    Its should be murder on all counts! grrrrr

  • I hope the parasite gets every minute of prison time he’s eligible for.

  • Caliban

    I hope for jail time, and a big, fat financial penalty in a civil suit. No one charging that much for spiritual leadership is any credit to actual spiritual practitioners. The most I have ever charged for my services? $25.00 – and that was to cover the cost of being at the event, and costume to wear for it.

  • Jackieverdell

    In order tp protect fools from the dangers of this huckster, the sentence should be at least 25 years. Even today, there are still gullible naive people following James Ray. He is a real menence to society.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad you can’t get away with killing someone due to your stupidity.

    Hey James Arthur Ray, here’s one in your honor.

  • Anonymous

    When people give thousands of dollars to a “spiritual entrepreneur” featured in “The Secret” to be trained as “Warriors” they have already drawn a losing number in the Darwin Lottery.

  • This decision takes more personal responsibility out of the hands of individuals. Ray was irresponsible, but those affected should have taken their own responsibility. Did he prevent anyone from leaving the sweatlodge?

    • Prosecutors argued that mentally conditioning and physically
      exhausting someone for several days, then exerting mental pressure on
      them to not leave a dangerous situation was indeed a case of
      “preventing” them from leaving.

      • Anonymous

        That doesn’t really sound very convincing. Especially when people have paid thousands of dollars up front for the privilege of being treated in just this way.

        Certainly there is negligence and incompetence involved on Ray’s part, exacerbated by the fact that he was profiteering from putting people in danger. But everyone in that sweat lodge had the ability to take themselves out of that danger at any time, but instead they voluntarily chose to stay. I call that getting caught in the gene-pool filter.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Apuleius, your argument supports the actual verdict of negligent homicide rather than the possible verdict of manslaughter.

          • Anonymous

            I was responding specifically to the prosecution’s contention that people were “prevented” from leaving the sweat lodge, despite the fact that they obviously were not.

          • Everyone who tried to leave the death lodge had to crawl past James Ray. While there is no testimony that Ray physically restrained people, Ray repeatedly bullied them into not leaving.

            He had told them over and over that they would feel like they were dying, but that they would not die. He told them he was an expert in leading sweats, they should trust him, and he showed them pictures of himself with Native people, trying to imply he knew the inner secrets of Medicine ways.

            When Dr. Beverly Bunn tried to leave he expressed his disappointment in her, said that he thought she in particular was better than that, and got the whole lodge to chant, “You are more than that! You can do it! You are more than that!” So she stayed. When he was told that Liz Neumann was nonresponsive, he told people to leave her, that Neumann knew what she was doing. When he was told that other participants were unconscious, not breathing, he told people not to help them, to leave them there. People testified that they ignored their instincts to help others because, after a week (or a series of many seminars as well) of being conditioned, bullied and humilated by James Ray, they were more afraid of angering him than of not helping others.

            James Shore defied James Ray and temporarily overcame his own heat-induced illness. He dragged multiple unconscious people past James Ray, while Ray acted like nothing was wrong and kept heating the lodge. Ray was by the door and could get air and occasional cooling; the people in most of the rest of the deathtent could not. There were people vomiting and urinating in the lodge and in the mud outside. Lou Caci crawled into the pit of red-hot rocks and burned himself horribly. He was one of many screaming in pain, delirious and unaware of who he was or where he was.

            James Shore returned one last time to try to drag out unconscious Kirby Brown. His adrenaline gave out and he passed out, too. James Shore died in the deathtent, hand in hand with Kirby Brown.

            No one blog post or comments on a blog post can convey all the information about why it was so hard for people to leave the deathlodge. That’s why it’s taken months of testimony. A good start would be with Twinkie Wrangler’s partial transcript of the closing arguments:

          • This HuffPo piece by Kent Greenfield, citing the Milgram studies, is also good:

            “The people in the sweat lodge desired Ray’s approval more than they feared death. The police report explains: ‘Participants thought highly of James Ray and didn’t want to let him down by leaving the sweat lodge.’

            “The horrible irony of the sweat lodge deaths is they occurred at a self-help event ostensibly designed to help participants take control of their lives. Instead, they were physically and emotionally weakened and then intimidated by an authority figure whose validation they cherished.

            “The ‘warriors’ may have seen the sweat lodge purge as a test of courage. In hindsight, we understand that the purge was seen that way only because Ray had identified it as such. Staying in the lodge was in fact dangerous and harmful, with no real benefit. It was courageous only in the way that forcing yourself to break your own finger with a hammer is courageous. The genuine act of courage was to question Ray’s methods, ask about the risks, demand care for those in distress, and leave the lodge. But that demanded wherewithal to challenge the authority figure. It is a measure of the difficulty of such a challenge that most people in the lodge were more willing to risk death than push their way through the tent flap.

            “And it is a measure of the jury’s understanding of human nature that they held Ray responsible, rather than the victims themselves.”