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On October 8, 2009, James Shore, Kirby Brown, and Liz Neuman, became terminally ill in a sweat lodge conducted by James Arthur Ray. Ray, a self-help author best known as a contributor to The Secret, was convicted on three counts of Criminally Negligent Homicide after a trial that spanned nearly four months.
In the days immediately preceding the trial, I learned that it would be broadcast on truTV's In Session. I resolved to make myself some popcorn and watch from the cheap seats, which is to say, my living room. And I decided to start blogging the experience. Nothing could have prepared me for the odyssey I was about to undertake. What began as a lark transformed into a mission. I committed to documenting a human drama by which I became utterly entranced but which the mass media tired of and abandoned. I could not have anticipated what a quirky and fascinating cast of characters would testify to their experience with James Ray, his sweat lodge, and the brutal aftermath. I got to know them, to identify with them, to care about them, to cry with them. Put simply, I fell in love with them.
Blogging the trial was a consuming endeavor, both in terms of hours and emotional energy. My husband began to refer to himself as a "trial widower." I was compelled to see through the experience for reasons I still cannot completely explain. It was a rich opportunity to heal old wounds and understand my own spiritual journey more deeply. While I have never denied a strong bias against the defendant in this case, I did endeavor to report the cases presented by both sides and to document as much through transcription or paraphrase as possible. That said, the blog was as much about my reaction to what was transpiring in the courtroom as to the facts of the case. Some of the writing was raw and stream of consciousness which owed as much to time constraints and volume of information as to my emotional processing of the events in question.
What follows is my attempt to categorize the major elements through a table of contents and glossary to make navigation of the trial blog simpler and more fruitful for the reader.
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The James Arthur Ray Trial Begins ~ A brief overview of the case with commentary on the first day's coverage on In Session
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 1 ~ In Session fails to deliver opening arguments this day; Research on purported sweat lodge designer David Singing Bear; James Ray has obvious anger issues
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 2 ~ Prosecutor Sheila Polk plays recordings of Ray's speeches from Spiritual Warrior during her opening argument; Themes of death predominate in Ray's descriptions; Ray discourages sleeping and encourages people to ignore feelings of impending death; Ray makes strong claims about altered states; Ray literally plays God; Defense attorney Luis Li attacks with the "adult's can't choose theory" and defends the rights of Americans to do extreme events in his opening argument
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 3 ~ Participant Melissa Phillips testifies; Phillips did not imagine anyone could die despite the very perfunctory waiver in the Spiritual Warrior Participant Guide; Ray put a lot on the nurse he didn't hire to be a nurse; Phillips testifies to Kirby Brown's erratic behavior and screaming in the sweat lodge; Discussion of Milgram experiment; Journey of Power curriculum is introduced
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 4 ~ Dream Team volunteer Jennifer Haley testifies; Ray's unwillingness to pay or even provide lodging for the bulk of his labor force violates his own law of attraction teachings; Participant Laura Tucker testifies; Tucker was one of the last people to communicate with Liz Neuman, expressed concern over her condition, and her concerns were discounted by Ray; Discussion of the inadequacy of the waivers signed by participants to prepare them for the physical rigors of Spiritual Warrior as compared to the Marine Corps and other physically demanding activities; Tucker rejects idea of cult-like manipulation under Ray
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 5 ~ More of Sheila Polk's opening argument outlining the prosecution's case and introducing the term "heat endurance challenge;" Luis Li's opening argument lays groundwork for poisoning theory, claims victims did not die of heat stroke, deflects blame to Angel Valley, and insists it wasn't a cult because they all signed waivers; Jennifer Haley returns to talk about shaving people's heads and is hilarious; Testimony is presented on the impact of large sums of money in exchange for ceremony; Discussion of Ray's devotion to the works of Carlos Castaneda; What does it mean to be a warrior?
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 6 ~ Judge Darrow ruling to permit limited prior sweat lodge testimony and recording of Kirby Brown; Jennifer Haley continues testimony; Haley addresses concerns about sanitary conditions for clipper cuts; Ray used vegetarian diet and sleep deprivation to keep people ungrounded; Haley details an altercation between Ray and the Dream Team that left Liz Neuman in tears; Haley explains how not completing the sweat lodge was equated with personal failure; Haley's testimony contradicts defense claims about participants feeling free to leave the tent and catalogs scenes of horror as people emerge very ill, injured, and disoriented at various stages of the event; Haley describes conflict with Marta Reis and other barriers to caring for the ill and injured; Recording of Kirby Brown describing her experience during the Samurai Game
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 7 ~ In which I compare Kirby Brown's Samurai Game death experience to the abuse of Sybil; Jennifer Haley gives Truc Do a hard time during cross; Do makes daring attempt to circumvent disclosure rules but fails; Participant Dr. Nell Wagoner testifies; Wagoner describes Ray's impatience with during the sweat lodge and unwillingness to hear her medical concerns of Lou Caci's severe burn; Participant Dennis Mehravar begins testimony; Mehravar had a bad reaction to the Holosync meditation
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 8 ~ Observations on cult dynamics as Luis Li tries to squelch all discussion of spiritual aspects to Ray's work; Interpreting some of Jennifer Haley's personal growth as evidenced in her testimony; Luis Li cross examination of Dennis Mehravar; Interminable discussion of the waivers and some speculation on how they figure into the cancellation policy; Li challenges Mehravar on his experience of the Holosync meditations; Li learns to complete amazement that Mehravar would not save him if he were dying if it might upset Ray; Participant Michael Edward Olesen testifies; Olesen noticed that Linda [Andresano] was unconscious but Ray was unconcerned; Olesen worked with others to remove people who were unable to leave the tent under their own power; Olesen labored for some time with the sick and injured but did not see Ray do anything; Tom Kelly cross examines Oleson who is not very cooperative as Kelly tries to establish the whole "people were free to leave" and "this was not a cult" narrative
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 9 ~ Participant Beverley Bunn testifies; Bunn clarifies that the waivers came long after registration and nonrefundable payment; Bunn testifies to the psychological pressure around shaving her head; Ray worked with Bunn directly on her "recapitulation" of sexual history and was often cruel; Ray intimidated Bunn into staying in the sweat lodge when she tried to leave; Bunn describes man rolling out from under the tent wall because he couldn't take anymore precipitating a temper tantrum from Ray; Ray directed a participant who wanted to pea on the floor of the sweat lodge rather than leave; The In Session team does a sweat lodge ceremony; James Ray sweat lodge compared to cheesy martial arts movie
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 10 ~ More Beverley Bunn testimony; Bunn gives gutwrenching, tearful testimony about the aftermath of the sweat lodge; James Ray did nothing as everybody else jumped into action to try to save lives; Bunn appears traumatized by Ray's verbal abuse; Bunn pushes back against Tom Kelly's assertions about her freedom to say "no" to Ray; In Session interviews James Shore's friend and learns that he was not very taken with Ray and had tried to cancel and get his money back but couldn't; In Session interviews Matthew James, Ray's Huna instructor from Hawaii who had terminated Ray as a student for his arrogant behavior; Sauna retailers offer substantially more thorough warnings and disclaimers than did Ray's waiver
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 11 ~ Cross examination of Beverley Bunn continues; Tom Kelly takes aim at Bunn's emotional vulnerabilities; Kelly and Bunn wrangle over whether or not she had freedom to opt out of activities; On redirect a recording of Ray reaming someone out is played and Bunn is visibly shaken; Participant Stephen Ray testifies; Ray has inculcated a lot of buzz words, aka. thought-stopping maxims; Ray "played full on" in all the activities but injured himself in the Samurai game and died but not from his injuries; Later, he almost died from injuries sustained during the sweat lodge; Ray still suffers from cognitive damage, no sense of taste or smell, among other problems; Sheila Polk plays recordings of James Ray making lots of wild assertions about the Toltecs; A recording of James Shore is played; Everyone is "impeccable"
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 12 ~ Tom Kelly's cross of Beverley Bunn shows the defense team's willingness to be as psychologically manipulative and cruel as James Ray; The three pillars of the defense strategy; Truc Do cross examines Stephen Ray; Do accidentally proves that free will at a James Ray seminar means "choosing" to do what he tells you to do; Recordings of Ray spouting warmed over Castaneda are played; Do addresses waivers and proves that martial arts training is much safer than a James Ray seminar but requires more involved waivers and health information; Do raises poisoning theory and introduces her strategy of relying on presumptive diagnoses and discounting final diagnoses; Do asserts that what happened to Stephen Ray was like hitting the runner's wall but Ray explains that he was really in trouble and if he'd been running a race, medical personnel would have intervened
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 13 ~ Participant Lou Caci testifies; James Ray is a power thief who left people feeling guilty over their powerlessness; Caci has a long history with Ray and is an enthusiastic participant in multiple seminars; Caci roomed with James Shore who appears not to have a terribly enthusiastic participant; It's looking like Caci is the one whom Ray instructed to piss on the floor; Caci was delirious when he fell into the heated rocks and badly burned his arm but he wanted to "play full on;" Caci also helped with the unconscious Linda [Andresano]; Luis Li begins his cross with some male bonding and sports talk; The male bonding ritual starts to turn into something that makes me a little uncomfortable; Caci and Li agree on "pillars" and "impeccability" but not so much on cults and gurus; Caci doesn't remember the hospital at all but that doesn't stop Li from asking him endless questions about it; Caci breaks down over his failure to help Liz Neuman; The jury is very interested in Caci's burned arm
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 14 ~ Defense attorney Luis Li kinda makes me cringe; Participant Dr. Jeanne Armstrong testifies; Armstrong is the only witness so far who remembers Ray doing anything at all to help in the aftermath; Prosecutor Bill Hughes asks the doctor to explain a bit on heatstroke and the "golden hour;" Under cross, Truc Do is unhappy with Armstrong's unwillingness to agree that dehydration is a necessary cause of heatstroke; Armstrong also agrees with the prosecution that the body temperature would have dropped by the time it was measured and does substantial damage to the defense's argument; The sweat lodge was also humid which raises body temperature faster
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 15 ~ Understanding heat related illness, humidity levels, and why the defense's argument doesn't hold water; James Ray's sweat lodge was a perfect storm of hyperthermia; Dr Armstrong's shirt may have saved her life; Participant Laurie Gennari testifies; Gennari felt bullied by Ray; Gennari experienced peer pressure to shave her head; Ray fosters dependency rather than self-reliance; Gennari was also overwhelmed by the Holosync meditation marathons; Ray's primary method seems to be based on overkill; Gennari, like Bunn, felt intimidated by Ray's excoriation of others; Gennari didn't care for the Samurai Game but was made to feel like that was a character flaw; Gennari wasn't adequately hydrated because Ray actively discouraged bathroom breaks; Gennari went through with the sweat lodge for very external reasons; She found it obscenely hot; Ray is a control freak; Sean Ronin went mental and had to be removed from the tent; Gennari heard that someone wasn't breathing and Ray did nothing; Liz Neuman acted like she was drunk; Gennari tried to leave between rounds but Ray intimidated her into staying; She passed out and had to be carried out and brutally hosed down; Gennari and Laura Tucker tended to a delirious Stephen Ray; Luis Li begins cross examination with clumsy bonding ploy; Li tries to convince Gennari that she could do whatever she wanted but she does not agree
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 16 ~ Luis Li continues his cross of Laurie Gennari; Gennari was much more positive about her her experience right after it; Gennari pushes back by admitting that she was in some denial at the time; Gennari agrees that she was not "forced" by Ray; Gennari has a pending lawsuit against Ray; Defense skirted disclosure rules by introducing text of lawsuit; Gennari pushes back against "precognitive" language in the the waiver; Under redirect, Polk establishes that Gennari needed emergency and continuing medical care after she returned home from the event; Gennari suffered lingering emotional and mental effects; Ray taught students to "keep the goggles on;" Li doesn't want Gennari's legal claim which he tried to sneak in to be admitted into evidence because much of it is bad for Ray; Polk uses legal claim to introduce fact that there were no refunds; Law suit evidence backfires badly for the defense; Jury wants to know about Gennari's shopping trip
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 17 ~ I can really relate to Laurie Gennari; JRI employee Melinda Martin testifies; Martin testifies on Marzvaan sisters who left and why that wasn't so easy; Private journals weren't so private; Martin was required to facilitate many activities she was no more certified in that Ray was; Ray saw a lot of sex in many women's auras; Martin had concerns over sweat lodge early on because she witnessed so much distress and injury which put her in conflict with Marta Reis and other staff; If defense is arguing that extraordinary reactions were due to a foreign toxin, why did Ray and staff think those reactions were normal; Martin was very involved in emergency response but Ray was not; Tom Kelly's cross focuses on her tendency to exaggerate; Martin exaggerated in media interviews she should never have done; Kelly begins to frame argument that Ray is not JRI and is not responsible for what JRI does; Kelly makes chart of corporate structure based on Martin's unqualified knowledge; Kelly splits hairs on head shaving; Kelly tries to ambush Martin with a disability claim that was never admitted into evidence; Kelly gets abusive and condescending
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 18 ~ Tom Kelly continues making his JRI corporate chart about nothing but apologizes to Melinda Martin for their "little fight;" Kelly makes several internally contradictory arguments; Sheila Polk uses redirect of Martin to establish that Ray controlled every element of Spiritual Warrior and the sweat lodge except tending to the sick and injured; Participant Scott Barratt testifies; Barratt is a rugged and enthusiastic guy who embraced all of Ray's challenges even though he had concerns about not being fed or hydrated enough; As a trained medevac medic, Barratt knew he was overheating in the sweat lodge and that he was delirious; Barratt helped to drag an unconscious Linda [Andresano] from the tent; Ray appeared more concerned about the tent supports than the unconscious woman; Barratt's training made him aware that he was in shock and passing out as he did so; Dennis Mehravar went on fruitless, irrational search for a hotel; Barratt suffered from physical problems for weeks after; Barratt didn't want to be a "quitter" but he was thinking like a drunk; Kelly's cross focuses on freedom of choice for the former medic, soldier, and cowboy, and even love can make you feel drunk, right?
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 19 ~ Tom Kelly goes all man crushy on former cowboy Scott Barratt; I attempt to resolve Kelly's great cosmetological question on buzz cuts; Sheila Polk makes another unsuccessful stab at getting past sweat lodge illnesses into evidence but does some damage anyway; Participant Linda Andresano testifies; Andresano is a nurse with health issues and was concerned by warnings in the waiver but JRI told her not to worry; Andresano has done a number of "weenie ass" Native American sweat lodges; As a nurse Andresano knew there were problems in the sweat lodge and was prepared to die with honor; Andresano survived and eventually went to the hospital for IV fluids; During cross Luis Li tries to confuse Andresano by misconstruing her deposition; Li informs Andresano that she's not a mind reader who agrees that she could not even read her own mind she was so delirious; Li reads health specific language in waivers but does not mention that they're Angel Valley's waivers, not Ray's; CNN goes mute
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 20 ~ How and why I became a fierce critic of The Secret and James Arthur Ray; Tom Kelly dismisses Daniel Pfankuch's 2005 emergency room care as a "shower;" Many past sweat lodge participants warned Ray about dangers of heat related illness and he responded with fruit; In Session introduces Ray's mother Joyce and LaVaughn's blood runs cold; Dr. Brent Marshall Cutshall testifies; Liz Neuman, Tess Wong, and Sidney Spencer, were all dehydrated and negative for CO but had pinpoint pupils; Cutshall thinks they may have suffered heatstroke but couldn't officially say so because they had cooled by time of treatment in ER; Truc Do confuses massively on cross; Cutshall explains that patients presented with both colinergic and anticolinergic symptomology which negates organophosphates argument and that dehydration is clinical rather than a lab diagnosis but is buried under an avalanche of Valley Girl verbiage
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 21 ~ Flight paramedic Joel Swedberg, who airlifted patients to the hospital, testifies to Liz Neuman's condition. Truc Do demonstrates her ignorance of narcotics. Paramedic Dustin Chambliss testifies about Kirby Brown's condition. There is much legal argument over the pending testimony from Angel Valley Ranch owner Michael Hamilton and the issue organophosphate pesticides.
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 22 ~ James Ray displays morbidly bad taste as he multitasks: being on trial and pitching Mind Movies. There is more legal wrangling over organophosphates, the Hamiltons, and today's testimony from medical examiner Dr. Robert Lyon. Lyon explains that one does not need to be dehydrated to die from heatstroke and finds that both Kirby Brown and James Shore did so.
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James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 42 ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial Resumes ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial Roundup June 1 ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial Roundup June 2 ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial Roundup June 3 ~
James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial to Continue ~
CNN Shows Up Late to James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial ~
Defense Rests in James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial Roundup June 11 ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: The Final Stretch ~
James Ray Trial: Closing Arguments Begin ~
James Ray Trial: Closing Arguments Continue ~
James Ray Trial: Endless Closings ~
James Ray Trial: As the Ending Nears the End ~
James Ray Trial: In the Hands of the Jury ~
James Ray Found Guilty in Sweat Lodge Deaths ~
James Ray: Aggravating Circumstances, Mitigating JETs ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Aggravating CNN ~
James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Aggravating Tom Kelly ~
The Jury: James Ray Caused Emotional Harm ~
Juror Speaks Out on James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial ~
Fighting James Ray with James Ray ~
Will James Arthur Ray Get Off on a Technicality? ~
James Ray Trial Jury Foreman Speaks ~
James Ray New Trial Motion DENIED ~
James Ray Hearing Vacated Due to Illness ~
James Ray Hearing: New Dates and More Objections ~
James Ray: I'm Sorry, Now Give Me Probation! ~
Will James Arthur Ray EVER Be Sentenced? ~
James Ray Sentencing: New Dates ~
James Ray's Presentencing Hearing: Week 1 ~
James Ray Sentenced to Two Years ~
Observations on James Ray's Sentencing ~
Harmonic Indigence ~
James Ray: No Longer Indigent? ~
The James Ray Appeal ~
Dream Team ~ Volunteers who did the bulk of the heavy lifting at seminars and events. Not only weren't these volunteers paid, they had to pay for their own travel, food, and lodging. It also appears that if they used the rooms arranged by JRI at these events, the paid inflated prices, as JRI took kickbacks.
Heat endurance challenge ~ The prosecution's term to describe a James Ray sweat lodge and distinguish it from a traditional Native American cleansing ceremony
Hellacious hot ~ (As opposed to Weenie-ass lodge) Ray's description of the extraordinarily high temperature of his sweat lodge in comparison to all others
Let people have their own experience ~ Constant instruction to leave people alone when they were in physical, emotional, or mental distress
Mind over matter ~
Pinnacle Event ~ The sweat lodge was considered the pinnacle event of the Spiritual Warrior retreat according to participants.
Playing full on ~
Samurai Game (aka., God Game) ~ Game played before the vision quest in which participants could be declared dead by God/James Ray. The dead were ordered to remain on the floor in the same position in which they fell for hours and miss dinner. After claiming that it was just like what played at AT&T and other corporations the defense revised its position to anyone can call anything the Samurai Game in response to concerns over copyright.
Waiver ~ Participants in Spiritual Warrior signed a waiver which gave a very cursory overview of the possible events and risks. It was sent out with a packet shortly before the event and months after people had registered and lost their right to cancel and receive a refund. If people had refused to sign they could not have participated but they would not have been refunded. A waiver protects the host, not the participant.
Weenie-ass lodge ~ (As opposed to Hellacious hot) Ray's basis of comparison between his own and other sweat lodge ceremonies which are not as hot, long, or intense