Jun 24, 2011

James Ray: Aggravating Circumstances, Mitigating JETs -- UPDATED

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.


Next week the James Ray trial will enter the aggravation phase. I doubt highly that CNN will stream it which is unfortunate. It could prove to be some of the most explosive testimony yet. Why do I say that? Two words: Megan Fredrickson. I was a little thrown when I saw her name on the list. I thought, either she's done quite an about-face or her testimony is being compelled. I'm inclined towards the latter possibility.

As per Lynn LaMaster of eNewAZ, the aggravation phase is a necessary step in determining sentencing. She has been updating this page as new information has come in on the verdict and post-verdict phase.

According to A.R.S. § 13-701 (C), "The minimum or maximum term imposed... may be imposed only if one or more of the circumstances alleged to be in aggravation of the crime are found to be true by the trier of fact beyond a reasonable doubt or are admitted by the defendant..."

The 'trier of fact' in this case is the jury.

Many circumstances are listed in A.R.S. § 13-701, but Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, in a motion filed with the court on February 16, alleges four aggravating circumstances:

1. The presence of an accomplice (A.R.S. § 13-701 (D)( 4)).
2. The especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner in which the offense was committed (A.R.S. § 13-701(D)(5)).
3. Defendant committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, or in the expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value (A.R.S. § 13-701(D)(6)).
4. The victim or, if the victim has died as a result of the conduct of Defendant, the victim's immediate family suffered physical, emotional or financial harm (A.R.S. § 13- 701 (D)(9)).

If the jury finds the aggravating circumstances are true, James Ray could be sentenced to 3.75 years in prison for each count. If the jury does not find any of the above aggravating circumstances to be true, Ray could receive a sentence that only includes probation.

Item one on that list, presence of an accomplice, is where I'm guessing Fredrickson's testimony comes in to play. She was Ray's second in command and largely responsible for controlling access to Ray. She sat next to him throughout the sweat lodge and sprinkled his fevered brow with water. She served him peeled grapes and fanned him with peacock feathers... Okay, I made that last part up.

Fredrickson has been in the State's sights for a while. She was interviewed by Detectives Poling and Diskin and given immunity for the duration of that interview, provided she told the truth. She didn't. At least not all of it. The transcript is a study in obfuscation. Her husband Josh was only slightly more forthcoming. It was, to quote the Salty Droid, "a HUGE mistake."

There's a lot of tantalizing information in the form of questions and a lot of hmmming from Megan. I'm guessing the primary issue will be a message Melinda Martin received from Fredrickson about cleaning out Ray's office because the police would be conducting a search. Martin, who is also on the witness list, was just not down with the program and turned the message over to police. When confronted by detectives, Megan developed a rather severe memory problem.

Det. Diskin: … Just one last issue and I appreciate you for talking to us again for all this stuff that we're going through but did you, do you remember leaving a voice mail for Melinda Martin in the weeks after the sweat lodge incident?

Megan: Uh huh

Det. Diskin: Do you remember what that message said?

Megan: I left her several voice mail messages so I'm not sure

Det. Diskin: I'm talking about the one where, and she saved this, where you call Melinda Martin and say that Josh and Greg are going through the office looking for anything that has to do with Spiritual Warrior so that you could get rid of it before the Detectives get there and find it.

Megan: Really?

Det. Diskin: Do you remember leaving that message?

Megan: Not with that language but

Det. Poling: What was the language?

Megan: Uhm, I, God, getting rid of stuff? Really?

Det. Diskin: Because the Detectives are gonna come there and get it. Or there was concern that the Detectives would come there and get it. Which we went there and didn't find hardly anything (Inaudible) from the Spiritual Warrior which we thought was odd cause we found all kinds of stuff for all the other events but for some reason Spiritual Warrior was, hardly anything was there.

Megan: Huh. No

. . .

Det. Poling: Her voice mail. The message you left, what was that? What was said to her?

Megan: I don't remember

I'm no legal expert but that looks like obstruction of justice to me. That, at the very least, is what Fredrickson has hanging over her head. So it will be interesting to see if her memory comes back.

Aside from the picked over office detectives found at JRI, Det. Diskin also testified to finding Megan's backpack stuffed with waivers. So Fredrickson's testimony could prove interesting. It sure would be nice to hear it.

Here is the complete list of witness the prosecution intends to call:

  • Virginia Brown
  • Ross Diskin
  • Megan Fredrickson
  • Amayra Hamilton
  • Alyssa Gillespie
  • Jane Gripp-Shore
  • Michael Hamilton
  • Melinda Martin
  • Andrea Puckett

Ray's defense will also be presenting mitigating factors. It turns out they're getting a little help from a one Karen Ortiz who has been attempting to drum up support in the form of support letters. On Connie Joy's Facebook page, someone posted the email she sent out to a super-secret list.

I met you at a James A Ray Event and IF you would like to send a letter sharing how James has helped you in your life
I can give you instructions from James.

The lost of our friends was very difficult and emotional, some people are saddened by the accident… while others are not supportive of the case. Please do...n’t debate the case – the jury has acquitted James of manslaughter but has found him guilty a lesser charge. The letters will be used by his lawyer next Tuesday.

James helped myself and many others – email back if you would like to write a letter about how James has helped your life for the better.

Please disregard if you do not wish to participate,
EMAIL me if you would like instructions….

Thank You …he has always been in God’s hands
(I got your email address from and undisclosed email from JAR office years ago
….I do not use for any other subject)
Blessings, Karen Ortiz

Interesting dichotomy this message sets up between people who are saddened by "the accident" and those who aren't "supportive" of the case. Does that mean that people who aren't supportive of the case aren't sad at the loss of three lives?

Who is Karen Ortiz you may ask? Well. I asked. And I googled. It's a common name so it took a little doing but I found her footprints. She was formerly a leader of Ray's Journey Expansion Team or JET. Her name is gone from that defunct web page, but here's a capture showing old text.

As per her profile page on the marketing site ZenZuu, she is also "A KING of the Marketplace" but only on the wide web; not the world wide web, apparently.

The self described KING is currently tearing up the internet marketing world with her site Totally Set  Free. Somehow, she still finds time to pirate people's "undisclosed" email addresses -- which is a little creepy and stalkerish -- in her bid to help Ray's lawyers. But hey, when you're a JET you're a JET all the way...

Update: It turns out prosecutors are collecting emails from people who've had bad experiences with James Ray; an issue Kathy raised here in the comments. This message was posted to Connie Joy's Facebook page.

I just received this note from my cousin: just talked to Wendy Diskin -- Det Diskin's mother. He wants emails from ex-JR peeps, explaining how they've been hurt by James Ray. It does not have to specifically pertain to the 09 sweatlodge. JR's goonies are soliciting letters from people telling how much JR's helped them for the defense to use at the aggravated hearings... Team Sheila wants to have their own stack of emails to fight back.

Do you have contact with any ex-JR peeps who would be willing to send emails? They can be sent to Sheila at ycao@co.yavapai.az.us.

So if you're reading this and you feel you have been adversely affected by your experience with James Ray, it would appear that now is a good time to vent your spleen.


  1. And you, LaVaughn, are still a Star, lol!!!!

  2. One thing that has stuck with me during this tragedy, is when Megan Fredrickson said to James in the lodge: "James, these people are your responsibility".

    Years ago when I attended bimonthly sweat lodge ceremonies for over a decade, it was clearly understood by all, that the holder of the sweat lodge was placed in the greatest trust because he had the care of everyone's well-being in his hands.

    While there were some pretty intensely hot ceremonies at times, the lodge holder would continually ask how everyone was doing - even DURING the rounds in the pitch black darkness. On rare occasions, he would end the round sooner than usual if he felt that it would be in the best interest of everyone inside. The rounds were serious, focused, sacred, and at times, intense. This was balanced in between the rounds with light, laughter, conversation, sometimes quiet contemplation, and lots, and lots of fresh air for as long as people needed this.

    The most I had ever seen of any physical distress in the decade that I attended hundreds of ceremonies, is dizziness. People who experienced this were encouraged to leave the lodge to get fresh air. Eyes rolling back, unconsciousness, vomiting, seizures and death - what a disgraceful abomination.

    I have also been part of sweat lodges with different people as sweat lodge holders.

    All of these holders were properly educated and "trained" with the traditions of the elders, and this education was passed on to them. It was not some fly by night weekend course or a self taught course. These men (and women) engaged in these traditional teachings for years and years before they were GIVEN (not TAKEN of their own accord) the privilege of holding these ceremonies and having the lives and well being of other people in their hands.

    Megan, at least in this instance, got it right. It was James responsibility.

    I wonder if the complicity for the aggravating factors is as you mention: after the fact with regards to document destruction.

    So I wonder if "accomplice" includes people not necessarily being an accomplice to the actual homicide, but a cover up after the fact?

  3. From Joyce Ray's Facebook:

    Joyce Ray
    If people want to send letters stating how James has impacted their life in a positive way (the more specific the better), they can email them to: nk@jamesray.com. The legal team can use them for his mitigation package. Signed and scanned is best but if not possible then an email letter will suffice.
    23 hours ago · Like ·

    Penny Marie Boyd I will send my letter, how could I not share what his teachings have done for me. Blessings and support to you Joyce, Gordon Jon and James.
    20 hours ago · Like
    Aviva Eagle Your wish is my command. Written, signed, scanned and emailed. All my love to your family ♥
    12 hours ago · Like

  4. I can understand JR's family drumming up support for him. They will likely be in the court room listening the the heart wrenching statements from the families of Kirby, James Shore and Liz.

    Any family would want there to something said that is good about their loved one. No one is all bad or all good. And likely, there have been people that have benefited from his teachings. So I get the family asking for these letters.

    What would interest me is this: Did Joyce, Gordon or Jon, or any members of JET or JRI reach out to the victim's families?

    If so, then their asking for letter support for James seems reasonable.

    If not - do you have an emoticon for vomit?

  5. @Kathy Graham, I'm sure there are people who've benefited from some of his work. He stole from good teachers and bad.

    Maybe I should write a letter about how I saw him in The Secret talking about genies and how the sheer ludicrousness of the analogy gave me an enormous headache in my eye. Think that might help?

  6. @LaVaughn, insert laughing emoticon here.

    How is it fair, for the defence to be asking for letters of support for the work that JR has done in the past with his JRI company, and the prosecution could not bring up past issues (i.e. Colleen, other sweat lodge participants, etc.) with the work he has done with JRI?

    That seems like an awful double standard to me. Sure, let all of the supportive mitigating factors be displayed for sentencing, but along with the victim impact statements, let all of the other destructive experiences that happened to others also be displayed as well.

  7. @Kathy Graham, You make a good point. But, bear in mind, they only have two days for this.

  8. How in the world will they ever get through all those witnesses in 2 days?? Is it true that during sentencing hearings that all past events can be brought up?

  9. Keith, I expect the prosecution intends to hone in on very specific info. The wild-card, as always, is how long defense attorneys will filibuster. See the above update. It looks like they are collecting letters from people to include prior experiences. How far they'll go with that info I can't say. But if I were a juror, I'd be pissed when I learned how much info was kept from me and if they start learning it when they're weighing aggravating factors, their sentencing recommendation might be a little stiff. We'll see... Well, we probably won't see. CNN did a runner. But maybe we'll hear about it somehow.

  10. I remember in the lead up to the trial the defense were planning on getting statements from people who'd been abused as kids and and "been helped" by Death Ray to get over it. The prosecution got it blocked. So they've probably already had a few lined up.

    I hope the jury hears about Colleen's death.

    Incidentally, LaVaughn, I never had any objection to the way you used the Milgram study here to explain what happened. I criticized the article on the Huff Po because the author missed too many details. He basically missed the entire case for the prosecution.

    Clearly authority played a central role, there are many other elements which the Milgram study did not involve, and which were left out of the article entirely. Heat stroke, for example wasn't mentioned at all; nor was peer pressure, nor was the $$$ motivation, or the personal motives, nor was the fact mentioned, that were lied to about the danger. None of those were elements in the Milgram study. Finally, also unlike the the Milgram study, people were inflicting pain upon themselves, not others, and were told it was harmless and would do them good.

    Using the Milgram study in isolation makes it look like the victims were stupid or brainwashed cult members. (And some who have linked to it clearly believe.)

    Many ex-students of Ray have openly admitted they were fooled. That's clear. But I think everyone, including Ray's critics, have been shocked by the degree of Ray's ruthlessness.

    As far as I know, the most complete picture of what happened in the trial is here, and I am glad that you've recorded it so thoroughly, LaVaughn!

    - Yakaru

  11. @ Yakaru, Not to worry; wasn't taking it personally at all. But it wasn't clear from your comment what you meant. The joys of twitter. I only joined twitter to keep up with this trial. The format drives me crazy and I'm still not very... um... twitterate. It's impossible to actually communicate.

    On the article, I think his point was that they weren't stupid or brainwashed. The people in the Milgram study weren't either. They were average folks being told what to do by an authority figure. That study proved to everyone's amazement that we're all at least somewhat submissive and a majority of us are very submissive. The study was done largely to understand the "Good German" effect of WWII. The punchline is, most of us are "Good Germans" at heart. (The tribal, or group mind, are a source of constant fascination for me.) But I think the article was far from critical of those people. It was really apologia; an attempt to explain to people who are baffled by why Ray would be held responsible by a jury of his peers.

    As for his lack of understanding, unless people having been watching the live stream on CNN or reading blogs like mine, yours, Salty's, etc., they are in an information vacuum. The mass media, which is what most people rely on, has done a HORRIBLE job of conveying the prosecution's case. The vast majority of the professional reporting has been pro-Ray and pro-defense. I've been appalled at how slanted the reporting has been. I think I've been fairer to both sides than the media has and I"m not even attempting to be unbiased. I stated my bias from the outset and never represented myself as a reporter. Even so, I think I've presented more of the defense's argument than the mass media has of the prosecution's case. Anyone watching through the media prism, which is most people who've been watching at all, probably are baffled by the verdict. They would have no idea what a brilliant case Sheila Polk laid out... or the actual facts of the case.

    A couple of fine points on Milgram: Some of the studies actually did examine peer pressure; staging actors as other "teachers" and when the they rebelled, so did the subjects. When they didn't, neither did the subjects. (Broad brush.) Milgram set up a variety of contexts, including changing the proximity and degree of authority conveyed by the person running the study. He really played with the variables. The thing that was clear was that the more people perceived that person as an authority figure, the more obedient they were.

    Many of the people at SW were heavily invested in Ray as an authority figure. They'd paid a lot of money affirming that he was an authority. That's part of why that cognitive dissonance factor comes into play. If I pay someone a lot of money and then don't trust him to know what he's doing, I'm no longer congruent. My action of paying $10 grand says "I trust this guy." If my feelings no longer do, I start to become very uncomfortable.


  12. (Wow. First time I've written a comment so long that Blogger cut me off.)

    As far as inflicting pain others, Milgram's subjects were also verbally assured that the electric shocks were harmless. They were left in a position of trying to determine whom to believe, the "learners" who were screaming or the authority figure. The majority trusted the authority figure. Similarly, Ray told people Liz Neuman was fine, she'd done this before, when she clearly wasn't fine. He told Scott Barratt and Mike Oleson to leave Linda Andresano where she was, when she clearly wasn't fine either, and they did. What most of these people are still tortured over isn't what they put themselves through. They've burst into tears on the stand over their inaction when other people were clearly in distress; the fact that they let themselves be intimidated by Ray and talked out of checking on other people when they had reason for concern. Dennis Mehravar even admitted that he'd let poor Luis Li die if saving him meant interrupting a round and pissing off "Mr. Ray." I'll never forget the look on Li's face when he got that answer.

    I, for one, have been AMAZED at Ray's ruthlessness and I never liked him to begin with. I didn't start out thinking he was intentionally using brainwashing techniques. I was proved wrong. The sleep and nutritional deprivation alone show that he was very consciously using tools that have been deliberately used by many cult leaders. I also think he was using hypnotic and NLP tools to manipulate people very directly. The more his income fell, the more determined he seemed to be to make his students dependent and submissive.

  13. My intent here is not to defend Ray, but to express a difference of opinion.

    I do not believe that Ray was intentionally using brainwashing techniques. I think he was a very unaware and ignorant asshole, living in la la land, only thinking about his own desires and needs, and thought he had the power to control even death through his abnormal beliefs.

    The reason I say that these were not brainwashing techniques, is because I have participated in about 4 fasting/vision quest experiences. They went like this: we would have an evening feast, then go into a sweat lodge ceremony after that. We would change into clean new clothes, then go into the forest where earlier that day, we had built our own personal lodges to sleep in. We would be by ourselves for 4 nights and 3 days with no food or water (72 hours). On the morning of the fourth day, we would attend a sweat lodge ceremony again (it really is surprising how much perspiration there still is after all of that!).

    While this can be looked on by some people as deprivation, it was not considered that by the people who partook in this experience, nor the tribe that supported those who were having this experience.

    It was looked on as purity, cleansing, healing, resting, and getting in touch with what was simple and basic.

    When I read that one of Kirby Brown's messages from a relative that had passed on, was to "keep it simple", I just cried.

    Because in truth, that is what sweating is about. It's what fasting is about. It's what vision quests are about.

    However, it's only about those things when they are guided by someone who is NOT a f**cking phony, who steals from the culture of others with the force of a lethal bull in a china shop. It's about those simple things, only when the sweat lodge holder cares for those who are fasting, and guides them with integrity, gentleness, love, compassion, selflessness, kindness and WISDOM.

    These victims were intelligent people. They were people who trusted that their journeys were to be guided in safe ways, where they believed that their "teacher" had their own well-being at heart.

    Some people have no heart.

  14. Oops, I meant 84 hours, not 72 hours. However, we also had the choice of coming out earlier if we wanted to, and doing 60, instead of 84 hours.

  15. Hi Kathy, I thought it was about ignorance, too. I learned too much in following this trial and reading background material. Ray actually says in his recorded comments that his intent was to keep people "off-balance" by using a vegetarian diet even though he doesn't advocate vegetarianism. He also intimidated them out of sleeping. Depriving people of nutrition, particularly protein, and sleep is a tried and true cult snapping technique. He used the same kind of gobbledygook to justify to his employees his keeping people sleep deprived and uncomfortable so that they were most exhausted when he started his sales pitches for the next seminars. He told them that people should decide from their unconscious minds rather than from a conscious place. He's a very deliberate huckster. I've been reading Connie Joy's book and she goes into more detail about the combination of hard sell, hypnotic, and NLP techniques he used. He spoke the language of cleansing and spiritual motivations, but put it all together and it spells long con.


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