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?