Self-Help Guru James Ray Convicted in Sweat Lodge Deaths

We have been following the case of self-help guru James Ray, who was criminally charged in the deaths of three people in his Arizona sweat lodge. He has now been found guilty of negligent homicide, though he was acquitted on the manslaughter charge. Once again, I believe the verdict shows the wisdom of the jury system. The jurors reached a fair result given these facts.

On June 28, the jury will meet to consider aggravating circumstances in the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Lizbeth Marie Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota. The ceremony made at least 15 others sick and Ray is still facing civil liability. He did not monitor the temperature inside the hut and was accused of a lack of care for his followers who forked over $10,000 to seek “new areas of consciousness.” They found new areas of unconsciousness instead.

One of the more interesting facts in the case was that the participating signed sweeping waivers. Most said that they did not read the waivers. This make for interesting fights in the tort action. Such waivers will not protect you on the criminal side but could make for a defense on the civil side.

Source: CNN

Jonathan Turley

13 thoughts on “Self-Help Guru James Ray Convicted in Sweat Lodge Deaths”


    “Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow gave Ray three, two-year sentences to be served concurrently and ordered him to pay more than $57,000 in restitution. He said the “emotional harm is so strong and such that probation is simply unwarranted in this case.””

    “Ray will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence. That comes out to almost 600 days, taking into account the credit he received for 24 days served. That’s roughly the amount of time he’s been out of jail on bond since his arrest early last year.”

  2. “Grow some balls and be responsible for your liberal, whiney, weak ass self!”

    Oh Brett, you’re so, so manly in speech. God know what deficiencies you are covering up for.

  3. “Such waivers will not protect you on the criminal side but could make for a defense on the civil side. ”

    Can someone please expand on that. Non-lawyer here.

  4. I agree, what a bunch of crap. Ray had hired his employees and assigned volunteers as well to take care of any problems during the event so that he could carry out the program for those who had no problems. With all those people in the pitch black he may well have obviously NOT understood the gravity of what anyone said across the room since others were assigned with the task to attend to this possibility. So people were poisoned with toxic burning wood in one area? Who knows when people say “I’m OK” that they’re really not, and dying!?! WTF! Then the very people charged with doing the job of monitoring the attendees while he’s facilitating get fuccking immunity from the STATE? to screw the person who hired the idiots who DID NOTHING they were hired to do!?! What a bloody mess. Or is it all to be ending happily for James as well? Most count the chix b4 the end.

  5. What bunch of crap! Is no one ever responsible for their own actions?!?! They knew what they were getting into!

    Grow some balls and be responsible for your liberal, whiney, weak ass self!

  6. I watched much of the trial on CNN’s live feed. I’m glad for the conviction, however I am convinced that the charge of recklessness (as in knowledge of a substantial risk to life) was supported by evidence and would not have been inappropriate.

    A waiver, as I understand it, may prevent recovery in cases of ordinary negligence. Ray’s behavior went far beyond ordinary.

    For my part, I hope this brings discredit to the wholesale conversion of traditional Native American ritual to general use, without the cultural sense and reckoning that developed alongside the tradition.

  7. Now if we could only move against the “hard cults” that have killed millions over the last 2000 years.

  8. When I read the headline here, I was worried that the convictions might have gone too far – I’m very much in agreement with the Prof that this conviction struck the right balance of responsibility for creating the dangerous situation, without going overboard.

    Mike is also right on for bringing up what I might characterize as other “soft cults”. In some cases they are run by “natural” con men who instinctively know how to manipulate people, but in the case of folks like “Werner Erhard” (nee John Paul Rosenberg) they consciously study how to manipulate. I don’t expect that est (which currently takes the form of the very for-profit Landmark Education LLC) is going to cook anyone to death anytime soon, but these manipulative groups certainly have the potential to do a lot of harm.

    From having seen first hand how “Landmark” works on its marks, the metaphor I’ve used is that the “students” take on the role of the “frog in slowly boiling water” (telling themselves that everything is fine, creating their own reality – ignoring the bubbles of steam forming around them) – which is a bit ironic in this context. They turn themselves over to the leader of the group so completely that it is up to that manipulator/leader to use good judgement – the “students” aren’t thinking for themselves at all. In the case of the botched, imitation sweat lodge, we see what happens when that manipulator/leader screws up.

  9. Yah, I posted an update to an older thread, AY, but I’m glad this kind of status change in a story previously followed here got the headline treatment by the Professor.

  10. Any of these self-help Guru’s are merely con men with an over active sense of grandeur and a lust for power and wealth. Lest we forget EST and Wehrner Erhard.

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