Supporters of self-help guru James Arthur Ray said today they had hoped the man who helped them navigate life's hurdles would be shown leniency when he was sentenced for three counts of neligent homicide and decried the fact that Ray now must spend the next two years of his life behind bars.
"He's no threat. If you're going to call him a threat, you would have to call people who teach skydiving or scuba diving instructors a threat," said David McCall, a Texas trucking business owner who said he spent $125,000 to attend Ray's seminars in 2008.
A diverse group of Ray's supporters, including McCall, a former Army staff sergeant who said he was on the brink of suicide before Ray's influence, and a former Hawaii probation officer, testified in the sentencing phase of Ray's trial.
Yavapai County, Ariz., Judge Warren Darrow sentenced Ray to two years in prison for each death, though he ruled the sentences could be served concurrently.
Ray must finish 85 percent of his sentence and will receive credit for 24 days already served, so he could be out of prison in 600 days.
McCall, who participated in a sweat lodge with Ray in 2008, a year before the ceremony that killed Kirby Brown, 38; James Shore, 40; and Liz Neuman, 49; said people were free to come and go as they pleased, adding that he took several breaks when the heat became overwhelming.
"I've been to every event he has had and I just think you've got to be responsible for you," McCall told ABCNews.com.
But witnesses in 2009 told a different story, of vomiting or unconscious people being dragged out of the sweat lodge. Family members of the victims asked the judge to sentence Ray to the maximum allowed term of nine years in prison.
"He wanted to be omnipotent and play God. When there was chaos, he was impotent and did nothing," said Ginny Brown, who lost her daughter Kirby.
Ray's defense argued that he had no idea people were sick in the triple-digit heat in the sweat lodge, which Native Americans traditionally use to cleanse the body and achieve spiritual breakthroughs.
"I would have stopped immediately had I known. If there was anything I could do to turn back the clock, I would do it," Ray told the judge before he was sentenced.
Some said there was no way Ray would do anything negligent to harm another human being. In fact, former Army Staff Sgt. Jack Lane credits Ray with saving his life.
"At the time that I met with Mr. Ray, I truly wanted to end my life and Mr. Ray, I truly believed, helped me," the Prescott, Ariz., Daily Courier reported Lane said in his testimony. "He saved a life."
Ray's team plans to appeal the sentence, based on "prosecution errors," The Associated Press reported.
But for now, Ray plans to offer his brand of positive thinking to his fellow inmates as he begins his two year stint in prison, his family said.
"He was in good spirits and said this would give him the opportunity to help people in prison that need it," Ray's brother Jon told the AP.
It's something Ray's core group of loyalists say they have no doubt he'll do.
"Wherever James goes," McCall said, "he always does good."