Self-help guru James Arthur Ray gets 2 years in sweat lodge deaths

James Arthur Ray, a self-help expert convicted in the deaths of three people who succumbed to extreme heat of an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony in 2009, was sentenced Friday to two years in prison.

The families of three people who participated in an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony tearfully pleaded with a judge to give James Arthur Ray, the self-help author convicted in their deaths the maximum sentence.

CNN says

Ray had been convicted on three counts of negligent homicide for the three deaths that happened as a result of the ceremony in Sedona, Arizona. He faced up to three years in prison on each count.

The Associated Press writes


Ray’s motivational mantra drew dozens of people to Sedona in October 2009 where they participated in a sweat lodge ceremony meant to purify their bodies.

The participants began showing signs of distress about halfway through the two-hour ceremony, and three died.

Ray insisted the deaths were a tragic accident. But a jury found him guilty on three counts of negligent homicide, rejecting the more serious charges of manslaughter.

The Arizona Republic says


During the trial, Ray’s attorneys had tried to characterize the deaths as a tragic, unavoidable accident, and had tried to persuade jurors that some unknown toxin might have caused the deaths. But jurors didn’t buy it, as several said in subsequent media interviews.

Judge Darrow had limited prosecutors’ efforts to introduce testimony about prior sweat lodges and other events led by Ray at which participants were injured; but after releasing the jury, in the pre-sentencing phase, Darrow allowed greater latitude to both sides.

Prosecutors aggressively made the case that Ray had ignored plenty of warning signs that his events were becoming dangerous, and that his stated desire to become the world’s first “self-help” billionaire led him to become increasingly careless at his events, a contention contested by Ray’s defense team.

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This post was last updated: Nov. 18, 2011