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

Self-help guru was found guilty of negligent homicide for all three victims.

ByABC News
June 22, 2011, 6:37 PM

June 22, 2011— -- 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.