James Ray, the sales trainer who became a spiritual and financial guru, has been on trial for the last month. He is charged with manslaughter because three people died in a sweat lodge ceremony he conducted at a retreat center in Sedona, Arizona.
So far the jury has heard from participants who survived the deadly event, from doctors, medical examiners, Ray’s employees and exerpts from his speeches and writings. The defense has made the case that this was a tragic accident, and participants knew what they were getting into, and signed waivers acknowledging the risks.
The participants agreed that they had signed the waivers saying they knew risks, but surely didn’t think that the experience could kill them. The survivors told the jury that Ray never physically prevented them from leaving the death lodge but that his words and judgment had an enormous influence on them. It’s clear that James Ray did not have the medical training nor did he provide such staff to deal with potential complications. He also never apprenticed or had the authorization of Native Americans to conduct their sacred ceremony.
In the last week, Ray and his defense are making a new pitch; that these tragic deaths were the result of poisoning. The wood used to heat the lava stones was processed and laden with chemicals; and the sweat lodge coverings were stored in a shed that also contained rat poison. This tragedy James Ray says, is the Retreat Centers fault.
Medical examiners said the victims died from heat stroke, but Ray’s attorneys asked them if the victims had died from some acute poisoning could the autopsy findings be the same, and the experts said perhaps some of the findings could overlap.
This is what we do in American jurisprudence. If you get caught doing something wrong, hire the best lawyers and point the finger of blame at someone else. We live in a litigious society where what’s right and wrong is decided in courtrooms. Morality has become defined as whatever you can get away with. If Ray’s lawyers can sow seeds of doubt in even one juror’s mind, as to how and why these victims died, they could find him not guilty as charged.
Ray and his lawyers are skilled at neurolinguistic programming (NLP), which means they are artists at persuasion. They know how to use language to change people’s thinking and behavior. I’m hoping the jury can see that what James Ray did was morally and legally reprehensible. James Arthur Ray made promises and took risks that exceeded his capacity and training, and it resulted in the deaths of 3 people…that’s wrong and we ought to stand up in community and say it’s unacceptable.