Self-help author sentenced to jail for death of followers
Self-help author James A. Ray has been sentenced to two years in prison for a sweat-lodge “purification” that led to the deaths of three of his followers.
As an Associated Press wire story recounts,
Ray’s motivational mantra drew dozens of people to a retreat nestled in the scrub forest near Sedona with a promise that the sweat lodge ceremony typically used by American Indians to cleanse the body would help them break through whatever was holding them back in life. It was the culminating event of his five-day “Spiritual Warrior” seminar.
Participants began showing signs of distress about half way through the two-hour ceremony. By the time it was over, some were vomiting, struggling to breathe and lying lifeless on the ground. Two people — Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee — were pronounced dead. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. She died more than a week later at a Flagstaff hospital.
… Prosecutors contended that Ray ratcheted up the heat to dangerous levels, ignored pleas for help and watched as participants were dragged out of the sweat lodge. Ray’s attorneys suggested that toxins or poisons contributed to the deaths, but jurors said that theory was not credible.
At the sentencing, Ray made a plea for mercy, saying he took full responsibility for what happened but saying he posed no threat to society and was the sole caregiver for his two ailing parents. But Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow ordered Ray to serve three, two-year sentences, to run concurrently, and to pay more than $57,000 in restitution, saying, “I see and I find that the aggravating circumstance of emotional harm is so strong and such that probation is simply unwarranted in this case.”
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.