James Arthur Ray – Sweat lodge leader sentenced to two years in prison

November 18, 2011

According to stories that have been released on major media outlets – James Arthur Ray has been sentenced to two years in prison for his involvement in several deaths in a sweat lodge incident.  Excerpts from a CNN report are shared below:

(CNN) — A judge sentenced a self-help expert to a total of two years in prison Friday for his role in the deaths of three people in a 2009 sweat lodge ceremony in the Arizona desert.

The judge instead imposed three two-year terms, to be served concurrently.

Ray and his attorneys asked for probation, but Judge Warren R. Darrow said the evidence shows “extreme negligence on the part of Mr. Ray.”

“A prison sentence is just mandated in this case,” he said.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Ray’s recklessness caused the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Lizbeth Marie Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota. At least 15 others who took part in the sweat lodge ceremony became ill.

The lodge, made of willow trees and branches and covered with tarpaulins and blankets, was heated to a perilously high temperature, causing the participants to suffer dehydration and heatstroke, prosecutors alleged.

Ray tearfully told the court that he has “no excuse” for what happened that October day or since.”At the end of the day, I lost three friends, and I lost them on my watch,” he said. “And whatever errors in judgment or mistakes I made, I’m going to have to live with those for the rest of my life.”

Ray asked Darrow to sentence him to probation, saying he is no threat to society and promising never to conduct another sweat lodge ceremony again.

“It pains me beyond belief to be here today, with the best of intentions gone wrong,” he said.

Before Darrow announced his judgment, prosecutor Sheila Polk characterized Ray as a dangerous “pretender” who had cast himself as a victim of an overzealous prosecution.

And relatives of the victims told Darrow that Ray has done little to redeem himself and that he deserved the maximum possible sentence of nine years in prison.

“My heart’s been ripped out. My life has been blown apart, and the pieces are yet to land,” said Virginia Brown, Kirby Brown’s mother.

As I share in my seminars – “Every Choice Has A Consequence” – based on the published facts and circumstances – what do you think about the James Ray sentence?  YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

James Ray – Self-Help Guru and the Power of Influence… The Sweat Lodge Deaths

June 29, 2011

An interesting article was recently written by Kent Greenfield.  The Title: The “Sweat Lodge Guru” Guilty Verdict: Recognizing the Deadly Influence of Authority.  Greenfield stated, “the jury understood that sometimes people are actually not responsible for their own decisions when they are under the powerful psychological influence of authority figures.”    A like to Kent’s article is here.

In the article Greenfield states:

Toward the end of the retreat, the “warriors” were to stay alone in the desert without water or food for thirty-six hours, followed by a return to camp for a two-hour “purge” in a sweat lodge, vaguely modeled after structures used in some Native American religious ceremonies. There was barely space for the fifty participants to squeeze in around a fire pit, kept hot by fresh coals brought in by Ray’s assistants. Ray sat outside the tent flap, keeping it sealed.

[Update: Some readers with knowledge of the event indicate that Ray was inside the tent rather than outside during the sweat-lodge ceremony. The police report after the event indicates that Ray was “sitting in a chair in the shade” outside the tent, but it is unclear in the report whether he was there for the entire event or only at the end. Other news reports are unclear as to his location.]

About halfway through the ceremony, some of the participants started to become ill. Ray urged them to press on. As the heat grew more oppressive, one man tried to lift up one of the walls of the lodge to allow fresh air to circulate, but Ray chastised him. When some people vomited, Ray explained that vomiting was good for them. Ray hovered by the door, intimidating people if they tried to leave. A few people struggled out, but most stayed. “Play full on,” Ray insisted. “You are not going to die. You might think you are, but you’re not going to die.”

At the end of the ordeal, several of the participants were indeed near death. Two died that evening; another fell into a coma and died a few days later. In all, almost half of the participants ended up in the hospital suffering from injuries as severe as scorched lungs and organ failure.

What happened? Why did people stay in the lodge, risking their lives? Any of them could have left at any time, but did not. Ray did not exert physical force.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Greenfield answers his question – WHY – by citing a 50+ year old study referred to as “the famous Milgram studies.”  And article in the New York Times defines the studies and raises interesting questions.  Here’s the link to the Times article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/01/health/research/01mind.html

In the Times article, Dr. Thomas Blass stated, “The power of the Milgram work was it showed how people can act destructively without coercion,” he said. “In things like interrogations, we don’t know the complexities involved. People are under enormous pressure to produce results.”  Greenfield postulates that the “Sweat Lodge Participants” did things against their own safety in order to produce the results that were either expected by Ray or perhaps themselves since they paid large sums of money for the experience.

Greenfield goes on to state:

The “warriors” may have seen the sweat lodge purge as a test of courage. In hindsight, we understand that the purge was seen that way only because Ray had identified it as such. Staying in the lodge was in fact dangerous and harmful, with no real benefit. It was courageous only in the way that forcing yourself to break your own finger with a hammer is courageous. The genuine act of courage was to question Ray’s methods, ask about the risks, demand care for those in distress, and leave the lodge. But that demanded wherewithal to challenge the authority figure. It is a measure of the difficulty of such a challenge that most people in the lodge were more willing to risk death than push their way through the tent flap.

And it is a measure of the jury’s understanding of human nature that they held Ray responsible, rather than the victims themselves.


Is Greenfield right in his assumption – the sweat lodge participants did so out of blind trust of Ray?  Were the participants victims of the Milgram model?  Did Ray use an undue and unsafe power of influence over the folks who paid for the experience?


Jurors will consider their testimony in determining whether aggravating factors figure into James Arthur Ray’s sentence. Ray was convicted on three counts of negligent homicide.  A finding of aggravating factors could increase Ray’s sentence. Probation also is an option.


What do you think the sentence should be in this case?


James Ray – Guilty of Negligent Homicide – What’s Next for the Self-Help Author? What’s to be Learned from this Tragedy?

June 25, 2011

At times even the best intentions can result in unintended consequences.  The question here is whether Self-Help author and speaker, James Ray, became blind to the risks and was too focused on the outcome?  This week Ray was found guilty on three counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of three people who died at his sweat-lodge event near Sedona in October 2009.

A charge of negligent homicide could carry penalties of up to 11 years. He was found not guilty on three counts of the more serious charge of manslaughter.

Three participants in the sweat lodge died: Kirby Brown, 38; James Shore, 40; and Liz Newman, 49.

It took jurors a bit less than eight hours over two days to reach their verdict.  When the verdict was announced, Ray was not taken into custody but rather allowed to remain free on bail.

On Tuesday the jury will hear from both sides regarding aggravating factors in advance of sentencing.  Found guilty of negligent homicide, Ray could be eligible for probation.  If aggravating factors are found, the defendant could be sentence to 3.75 years per count. Aggravating factors include being convicted of more than one offense, and mitigating factors, which could reduce a sentence, include whether a defendant has no prior convictions.

The sweat lodge was the culmination of a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” retreat near Sedona, for which some 50 participants had paid up to $10,000 each to attend.  Participants in the sweat lodge gathered in a long, low, wood-framed structure covered with blankets and tarps. Stones were heated on a fire outside, then brought in by volunteers before each of eight roughly 15-minute rounds and placed in a hole near the center. Ray controlled the length and number of rounds, the number of stones used and how much water he poured over them to create steam.

James Ray conducted these sort of ritual processes – this was old stuff to him.  People flocked to him to for the experience and knew that there were risks.  Yet, none anticipated those experiences would include their death.  So…with all the publicity what are the practical ramifications?  Did Ray become callous to the risks and fail to see the obvious warning signs as people passed out?  Is it possible that we can become so caught up in the illusion of what we do that we miss the obvious?

And, regardless of the Jury’s guilty verdict – do you think Ray should serve time in prison or be sentenced to probation?