New Age “Sweat Lodge” Guru Convicted on Three Counts of Murder

An Arizona jury convicted James Arthur Ray of three counts of negligent homicide in the 2009 deaths of three people who died while participating in a New Age sweat lodge ceremony.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Ray, a bestselling author who made millions in the New Age self-help industry, was convicted yesterday of officiating over a ceremony in a sweat lodge three years ago that left three people dead and 20 hospitalized.

Called a “Spiritual Warrior” event, it took place in the New Age playground known as Sedona, Arizona in October of 2009. Fifty-six participants were brought inside a dome-like structure called a sweat lodge which was covered in tarps and blankets and used hot rocks and water inside to create steam. As the conditions inside the lodge became increasingly unbearable, people began to vomit and pass out while eyewitnesses say Ray urged them to ignore their bodies’ signs of distress and persevere. The event was intended to help people overcome adversity and reach their full potential.

Most of the participants made it out alive but many were unconscious by the time help arrived. Three people never regained consciousness and died at local hospitals — Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y.; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn. Eighteen other people were hospitalized..

After four months of testimony, the eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated for fewer than 12 hours before finding James Arthur Ray guilty of three counts of negligent homicide. They acquitted him of the more serious charges of manslaughter.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Ray was criminally negligent in subjecting participants to life-threatening conditions, and that he deserved prison for their deaths.

Defense attorneys countered by saying the participants, who each paid $10,000 to attend the event, had signed waivers acknowledging that they understood death was a risk.

Ray, who now faces up to 11 years in prison, made himself a fortune in the $11 billion U.S. self-help industry. Under the auspices of teaching people how to achieve “harmonic wealth in all areas of life,” his official bio lists his qualifications as being from “a wide diversity of teachings and teachers – from his collegiate learning and the schools of the corporate world, to the ancient cultures of Peru, Egypt and the Amazon.” Claiming to have a “comprehensive and diverse background in behavioral sciences, coupled with his experience as a successful entrepreneur, and an avid thirst for spiritual knowledge,” he claims to have a special ability to “blend the practical and mystical into a usable and easy-to-access formula for achieving true wealth across all aspects of life.”

Yesterday afternoon, his empire came crashing down.

After the verdict was delivered yesterday, the family of Kirby Brown announced that they were planning to start a nonprofit group to try to police the self-help industry. “As the horrific details of the three deaths emerged in this trial, we realized that the potential danger posed by ‘self-help’ gurus extends well beyond James Ray,” the family said in a statement.

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