James Ray Found Guilty of Negligent Homicide in Arizona Sweat Lodge Case

Sweat Lodge Case: James Ray GuiltyPlayABCNEWS.com
WATCH Sweat Lodge Case: James Ray Guilty

The self-help author James Arthur Ray was convicted today after he was accused in the deaths of three people during a Sedona, Ariz., sweat lodge ceremony in 2009 and ignoring cries for help as people passed out and vomited.

Ray, 53, was found not guilty in three counts of manslaughter, but was found guilty of the lesser charge of negligent homicide for all three victims.

The case will continue on June 28, when the jury will convene to make a decision regarding aggravating circumstances in the case.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk claimed Ray's recklessness while presiding over the "Spiritual Warrior" ceremony killed three of his followers -- Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn.; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y.. Prosecutors also said Ray conditioned participants through breathing exercises, sleep deprivation, a 36-hour fast and lectures to ignore their bodies' signs of danger.

Ray's attorneys told jurors that the state didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ray is culpable. They also accused authorities of botching the investigation and failing to consider that anything other than Ray's actions caused the deaths.

In October 2009, about 60 of Ray's followers crammed into a 415-square-foot hut heated with red-hot rocks. Ray, a charismatic guru, told his followers it would be a "rebirthing" but it instead turned into a fatal experience for three people.

According to prosecutors, one witness said, "20 people got sick. Overheated and throwing up."

Sweat lodge participant Mary Latallade told ABC News in a 2010 interview that she felt as if she left her body for six hours and that when she came back, she was violently ill.

"I'm definitely, you know ... feel angry. You know, James Ray is ultimately responsible when he runs these seminars," she said. " You do as he says. He plays that paternal role. And he let us know. He's dad and we're his kids and you just follow his lead."

Ray, who has made millions of dollars telling people how to improve their lives, maintained that he did not know the people who died in the sweat lodge in 2009 were so sick. His lawyers insisted that 911 was called as soon as the emergency became apparent. Ray, they say, had been encouraging people to hydrate and had a retired nurse on site.

In an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America," on Feb. 4, 2010, Ray's attorney Brad Brian said Ray didn't force anyone to stay in the sweat lodge.

"The people who participate in these programs were intelligent, professional people," Brian said, "who signed disclaimers, who understood that this was going to be hot. They understood this was going to be difficult."

In an exclusive 2009 interview with "Nightline," Melinda Martin, a former employee of Ray's who was at the Sedona, Ariz., sweat lodge ceremony in question, said when medicial help arrived on the scene they mistook it for a mass suicide.

Watch the 2009 exclusive "Nightline" interview HERE.

"When the paramedics arrived, and they came, the guy's like, 'What happened here? Is this like a mass suicide?' he said to me. And I said, 'No, it was a sweat lodge gone wrong,'" Martin said. "There were people lying everywhere out. It was crazy. There was vomiting, you know, moaning and crying, and it looked like a mass suicide. It looked like people were on their way out. It was crazy."

Martin, a former real estate agent, took a job with James Ray International Inc. about a year ago after listening to some of Ray's motivational tapes.

"I had actually gone through one of his courses called '21 Days to Success for Coaching.' And it actually really helped me build up a business and build it from scratch and then sell it. So I actually got a great benefit from him.

Ray's message, included in the best-selling book and DVD "The Secret," that you can get whatever you want through the power of your thoughts, resonated with Martin. Employee Claims Ray Did Not Help People Dying in Sweat Lodge

But when she went to work for Ray, Martin said she found him personally disappointing -- especially after she said she was told that employees were not allowed to address him directly.

"James was on a pedestal, and he lived in Beverly Hills, and he very, very rarely came to the office," Martin told "Nightline" in 2009. "And when he would come to the office, he was very quiet and didn't really talk to anyone. And when we would all have group dinners, he would have his assistants next to him. He didn't really like to interact with the rest of his employees."

During the so-called Spiritual Warrior event in Sedona, Martin said her role was to greet the guests and to help oversee exercises, including something called "breath work" in which participants alter their state through hyperventilated breathing.

"It sort of tricks your mind. You go into an altered state," she said. "And people start screaming and yelling and flipping around. I was physically walking around and seeing how these people were -- were flailing around. Their arms were atrophied and [they were] screaming and crying and people were having nightmares and they're thrashing this way and that way."

But that was just the beginning. It got even stranger, when Martin said that Ray organized a game about death -- based in part on the movie "The Last Samurai."

"James, his role was God, so he wore a white robe and he was God and no one was allowed to talk to God," she recalled. "I was an angel of death. And all of the volunteers ... we all had grim reaper costumes on."

The now-infamous sweat lodge ceremony took place on the fourth day of the workshop inside the crammed tent. Martin, who was stationed outside, said she first believed that something was going wrong when guests started streaming out.

"After the first round when the door opened and people came out, I was shocked. I was shocked at the condition of the people that came out. A girl comes out, and she was hysterical. She was crying, telling me, 'This is bad. This is bad. I don't like this. I want to go back to the way I was. Please, please. I don't like this. This is bad.'"

As the ceremony went on, the damage got worse. Martin claims there was no paid medical staff on site.

"I had another guy come out, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs. 'I don't want to die! Please don't let me die! Please! Please save me! I'm dying! I'm dying!' He was screaming so loud, and ... I'm doing everything I can to put water on people and calm their -- their -- the heat, you know, just put water on them to bring the heat down, put towels on them, trying to warm them up, give them electrolyte water, do all the things that I was told that I would have to do, but amplify it by, you know, 1,000 percent, because now I was dealing with people in trances and saying they were dying and they -- their arm skin was gone."

Martin said she wanted to call for help, but Ray's staffers told her no.

"They told me that that wasn't something that would be done, because in the past, 911 had been called, and James got very, very angry at the person who called 911, so that had already been quashed. So I was in the mode of taking care of people," she said.

What's more, Martin said she was also told not to even look alarmed. "And they told me, 'Melinda, get the look off of your face, because you're scaring people. You're going to make people think this isn't normal,'" she said.

James Ray Responds to Claims He Did Nothing to Help Victims

Martin said that while people were being dragged out from the tent in front of him, Ray made no mention of stopping the ceremony. She said she was on the side of the tent when Ray exited the sweat lodge and saw the pandemonium outside.

"He came out, and he stretched his arms up, and everybody hosed him off, and he's like, 'Hey, thanks,'" Martin recalled. "I just stopped and I said, 'How can you walk out of there with all of these people are down and they're -- they looked near death, and you guys can walk out there looking like you just spent the day in the spa?' It was incredible to me."

"When he walked out and he made a right-hand turn as he went to go sit down and get a drink of water, the guy who had been screaming at me, saying he didn't want do, 'I'm dying! I'm dying! Please don't let me die!' James walked by him, and he goes, 'Hey, I died. I died, and I came back to life.' And James was like, 'Yeah, man,' gave him a high-five. You know, I think James didn't really realize to what extent all this stuff was going on," she said.

As Martin performed CPR on a dying woman, she said her boss simply stared.

"I look up, and he's standing right over my head watching. He's watching from a stand-up position. He didn't offer to help. He didn't say anything, nothing at all," Martin told "Nightline." "And he was like kind of just looking around. And I'm sure he was shocked, but so was I, but that didn't stop me from getting down on the ground and, you know, working and trying to get people back to life."

In response to Martin's comments, Ray's company said in a statement to ABC News in 2009 that Ray tried to help, according to the information the company collected from employees and event participants during its private investigation:

"According to the signed statement of one participant, 'my impression was that James Ray was stunned about what was happening and was attempting to help as many people as he could. I do not feel there was any more James Ray could have done.' The signed statement of a second participant said that 'I realize that what has happened is a horrible tragedy, but I do not feel that James Ray is responsible for what has occurred.' Finally, the signed statement of a JRI employee indicates that 'the press reports stating that James abandoned the participants that night are completely false.'"

ABC News' Lee Ferran, Kate McCarthy and the Associated Press contributed to this report.