Ray 'Accepts Responsibility' but That 'Doesn't Make It a Crime,' Lawyer Says

James Ray arrested and charged with three counts of manslaughter.

October 28, 2009, 3:49 PM

Feb. 4, 2010 — -- James Ray accepts responsibility for what happened in the Sedona, Ariz., sweat lodge that led to three deaths, but that does not make it a crime, said one of his lawyers, Brad Brian.

"After this happened he immediately reached out to the families. We have been meeting with the families' lawyers. But again, that doesn't make it a crime. We think turning this into a criminal charge we think is unjust and we look forward to proving his innocence in court," Brian said on "Good Morning America" this morning.

Ray, a controversial spiritual leader, was arrested last night and charged with three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman following the Oct. 8 ceremony.

Brian said his client is "devastated" by the deaths.

"This was a tragic accident. No one, including Mr. Ray, could have possibility foreseen consequences anything like this. He has thought about nothing else every day since this incident," Brian said.

The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office announced the arrest in a statement on its Web site Wednesday night.

"With the arrest of James Ray, Sheriff [Steve] Waugh hopes the families of the three victims will now have some measure of closure to this tragedy," according to the statement.

Ray was "cooperative" with police and answered routing booking questions, officer Dwight Develyn of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office told ABC News. Bond was set for Ray at $5 million, the sheriff's office said.

Brown, 38, and Shore, 40, both of whom paid nearly $10,000 to spend the week with Ray, died in the lodge.

Neuman, 49, spent more than a week in a coma and died Oct. 17. Eighteen others were injured.

Andrea Pucket, Neuman's daughter, was glad there was an arrest in the case.

"I think this is going to be a first step to starting to be able to move on with our lives," she told ABC News.

Survivor Beverly Bunn told "Good Morning America" that even while people were collapsing, vomiting and gasping for air, Ray, who was leading the ceremony, urged everyone to stay inside.

More than 60 people were gathered inside the tent hoping to cleanse their bodies. But within the hour people began to collapse and vomit, Bunn said.

While people were not physically forced to remain in the tent, Bunn said Ray would chide them if they wanted to leave, saying weakness could be overcome.

Brain says Ray took extreme precautions while conducting the ceremony and denies the charge that Ray prevented anyone from leaving.

"The people here who participated in these programs were intelligent, professional people who signed disclaimers, who understood this was going to be hot, understood this was going to be difficult. And yet, as I said, 20 people left during the sweat lodge. There were different rounds, the tent flaps were opened and people were allowed to leave," Brian told "GMA."

James Arthur Ray Charged in Sweat Lodge Deaths

Days after the incident, Ray wrote on his Web site that for the families of the people who died, "the questions raised by the tragedy" needed to be answered.

"It's now clear I must dedicate all of my physical and emotional energies to helping bring some sort of closure to this matter," he wrote.

Puckett told ABC News in October she held Ray accountable for her mother's death.

"I think he should take responsibility for his role in this incident," Puckett said. "Honestly, I think he deserves to be behind bars. I think that he was completely negligent and I believe that he is responsible for my mother's death."

In a statement to ABC News in October, an attorney for Ray called the deaths a "terrible accident" but distanced the self-help guru from accountability.

"The facts are that Mr. Ray was not the one who was responsible for the design, construction or maintenance of the sweat lodge," the statement said.

Before his arrest and in response to media reports that Ray's legal team deemed "filled with inaccuracies and poisonous innuendo," the team posted two documents known as "The White Papers" on Ray's Web site under a section called "Setting the Record Straight."

"The White Papers," addressed directly to Bill Hughes, the Supervising Deputy County Attorney, presents in more than 60 pages what amounts to a defense against criminal charges of any kind.

"Criminal charges would compound this tragedy, regardless of outcome," the document says in its introduction. "Despite the innuendo in various media accounts, Mr. Ray did not lead or pressure participants into making a choice they otherwise would not have made."

Ray has been criticized for refusing to give investigators a statement concerning the deaths and for hosting two events after the deaths before he canceled an event in Toronto.

"In the days following the terrible accident, I struggled to respond the right way," Ray said on his Web site.

It's a rare admission for a man whose meteoric rise in the self-help industry was largely based on knowing just what to say.

Ray's self-help star rose dramatically in 2006 with the best-selling book "The Secret," which preaches "The Law of Attraction," the idea that people can attract anything they want -- money, love, improved health -- through the power of thoughts.

"In simple terms, if you are constantly thinking, feeling and acting broke, then you're never going to attract prosperity into your life," Ray told ABC News in a previously unaired 2007 interview with Dan Harris.

Supporters Call James Arthur Ray's Seminars Life-Changing

In that interview, Ray defended "The Secret" against critics who asked if the victims of 9/11 or the Holocaust are to blame for simply thinking incorrectly.

"I know people of the Jewish faith and heritage who don't necessarily believe the Holocaust was bad," Ray said. "Now that might be shocking to you but I have people on record who have said, hey there's a lot of good things that came out of that, a lot of lessons, a lot of opportunities for the world. "

In free meetings Ray gives a taste of his teachings -- which include a mix of spirituality, motivational speaking and quantum physics -- in a pitch that urges attendees to sign up for his multi-day seminars. These seminars, like the one in Sedona, can cost thousands of dollars.

The seminars are a mix of lecturing based on various self-help teachings and activities such as walking on coals, breaking wooden boards and the now-infamous sweat lodge, which are meant to push personal limits, one attendee said.

Donna Fleming, 60, told ABC News in October she felt "taken" after Ray convinced her to pay $6,000 for two seminars.

"He's good. He's got charisma. He's just an unbelievably charismatic individual that really does sway a lot of people," Fleming said. "Ray is in it for the money and I have no question whatsoever that he realized he hit the goldmine when he realized he was the perfect fit for this industry."

Fleming said she walked out of the first of the two seminars she paid for in 2008 after an activity in which the participants dressed up as homeless people and wandered around downtown San Diego for four hours.

"I was angry, I tried to deal with that. I tried to find what possible theme could this be for me, and I probably realized flat out that I'd been taken for a substantial amount of money for an absolutely ridiculous experience," Fleming said.

Fleming filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get her money back but lost.

Supporter Undeterred by Sedona Deaths

But while Fleming said she was dissatisfied, she said she was "among very few people who had a problem with the experience." Dave Orton, who took part in the same activity during a different seminar in San Diego, said the "homeless activity" was eye-opening.

"I experienced what it was like to be a homeless person, people looking down on me because of my appearance," Orton told ABC News. "It does take you outside your comfort zone. It does put you in a place you're not used to. It's a place where you experience growth pretty rapidly."

Orton said it's thanks to Ray that he lives a life of "near constant gratitude" for what he has and that the price tag is more than worth it. Undeterred by the recent deaths, as of October, Orton planned to attend the Sedona event next year.

"The value doesn't even compare," he said. "To the people that say he's a fraud, I haven't actually thought of what I would say to them, it's so far out of what I see as reality. Have you tried growing yourself?"

For Fleming, the only thing that grew was her distrust of the self-improvement industry.

"I feel cured of self-help groups so that's something," Fleming said. "Maybe that's worth $6,000."

ABC News' Jay Shaylor contributed to this report.

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