James Arthur Ray’s sweat lodge deaths trial starts today

Opening arguments in the manslaughter trial of the self-help guru James Arthur Ray begin today.

Catherhine Holland, at AZFamily.com, reports Ray is

charged with three counts of manslaughter stemming from a sweat-lodge ceremony in 2009. More than a dozen other people had to be treated for various heat-related illnesses.

While prosecutors say Ray was reckless, defense attorneys say the deaths were accidental and unpredictable, contending that nobody was forced to take part in the ceremony.

The theme of the sweat-lodge ceremony was death and rebirth. Ray, now 53, reportedly told participants that they were not going to die although they might feel like they were.

“You must surrender to survive,” Ray reportedly said.

Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died the same day as the sweat-lodge ceremony. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., died a few days later. Fifteen more people became ill, some of them seriously.

The sweat-lodge ceremony was the culmination of the five-day Spiritual Warrior retreat at the Angel Valley Resort in Sedona. It was the sixth retreat of its kind, and participants paid about $10,000 to attend.

While prosecutors said participants were pressured to stay inside the sweat lodge, defense attorneys said several people did come and go of their own free will.

Ray told participants the sweat lodge ceremony would be one of the most intense experiences of their lives. Instead the event turned into a terrifying experience.

The Associated Press wrote:

People were vomiting in the stifling heat, gasping for air, and lying lifeless on the sand and gravel floor beneath them, according to participant Beverley Bunn. One man was burned when he crawled into the rocks, seemingly unaware of what he was doing, she said. Ultimately, three people would die.

When participants exhibited weakness, Ray urged them to push past it and chided those who wanted to leave, she said. “I can’t get her to move. I can’t get her to wake up,” Bunn recalls hearing from two sides of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge. Ray’s response: “Leave her alone, she’ll be dealt with in the next round.”

Reuters says that following his arrest, lawyers for Ray argued that the three died as the result of a “terrible accident” and not a criminal act, and said they are confident he would be exonerated in court.

If convicted of all three reckless manslaughter charges James Arthur Ray faces up to 30 years in prison.

In an episode of the TV series Mind Games, last June ABC News explained Ray’s popularity:

While self-help has been around for decades, the movement exploded in 2006, when the publication of a modest book and DVD called, “The Secret” became a cultural phenomenon, with Ray as one of its featured speakers.

“That is such a seminal event in modern day self-help,” said Steve Salerno, author of “Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless.”

“What had heretofore been looked at just kind of new agey… stuff could now be mainstream.”

The secret behind “The Secret” is something called, “The Law of Attraction.”

“Everything that is coming into your life, you are attracting into your life,” explains Bob Proctor, a self-help leader featured in the film, “The Secret.”

“And it’s attracted to you by the virtue of the images you are holding in your mind.”

As “The Secret’s” sales boomed, Ray was catapulted into the self-help stratosphere. His book “Harmonic Wealth” became a best-sellers, and he started popping up all over, on Larry King, as a judge at the Miss America pageant and on Oprah, who enthusiastically embraced”The Secret.”

Ray preached the message that the universe is infinitely abundant — a real-life Aladdin’s lamp for anybody in the right mindset to rub at will.

“And the genie always says one thing, “Your wish is my command,” said Ray, in “The Secret.”

In an interview with ABC’s Dan Harris in 2007, Ray said, “In simple terms, if you are thinking, feeling and acting broke, then you’re never gonna attract prosperity into your life. Conversely, if you’re constantly thinking, feeling, acting healthy and whole then you are going to attract and create that in your life.”

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