Lawyers for James Arthur Ray, the man who led a fatal sweat-lodge ceremony near Sedona, are trying to keep a couple of the prosecution’s proposed expert witnesses from testifying in his upcoming trial.
One of those experts is Rick Ross, who has a national reputation as an authority on cults and cult behavior. Ross, formerly based in Arizona, has a controversial background, including his work as a cult “deprogrammer.”
Yavapai County prosecutors want Ross to testify in their case against James Arthur Ray, who is facing three manslaughter charges stemming from the 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony. They want Ross to testify about a mind-control technique that they say convinced people to stay inside the sweltering enclosure, overriding “common sense or wisdom” that told them to get out when they got too hot.
The prosecution also wants Steven Pace, an expert on managing risk in adventure-education programs, to testify. But Ray’s lawyers also object to Stevens, They say the trial is about Ray’s behavior, not corporate standards.
Ray’s lawyers say Ross can’t argue that Ray exerted some sort of unusual control over the people in the sweat lodge. They say participants could leave at any time, that some did so and some returned.
Ross’ status as a cult expert also came under question by Ray’s attorneys, who said he has no education beyond a high-school degree and no special training in counseling or mental-health issues.
Prosecutors say Ross hasn’t been involved in the “forcible detention and deprogramming” of adult cult members since 1990 and that his past shouldn’t be mentioned in the trial.
The sweat lodge ceremony at the conclusion of a retreat headed by Ray, led to the deaths of three people: Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, Wis.; and Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y died. 18 others were injured.
CBS report from February, 2010: