Mar 18, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 14

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

James Arthur Ray With His New Dream Team

I've been contemplating the embarrassing spectacle that was Luis Li's cross examination of Lou Caci on his work-out routine. Li was attempting to build rapport with a witness -- which is a solid tactic -- and to do so he needed to appear as if he was dropping his guard a bit. The thing is, I think he did drop his guard. He gave us all a little peak into his  psyche and the view wasn't pretty. He was at turns nakedly manipulative and disturbingly needy. There's a certain train-wreck quality to watching someone with no discernible people skills trying to be chummy.

Li has revealed himself to be a rather emotionally stunted individual. I'm sure he's a very smart guy, and that he knows the law well, but he does not get people. He has a high IQ and a low EQ. I think he's, in a sense, being very sincere when he questions the validity of the "cult indoctrination" theory. That's because because he's miles away from any understanding of how someone with the charm and charisma he so sorely lacks can exert subtler forms of influence. So Li spends his days battling a straw man idea of cult indoctrination that comes right out of a 1970s TV movie.

Li also reveals his psyche when Judge Darrow is hearing various motions. His arguments show, at turns, sharp legal acumen and the mental state of a five year old. I caught the tail end of a motion hearing yesterday and could only marvel at his petulance. He's not happy that the prosecution keeps picking up on things that the defense brings up during cross. If the defense wants to make analogies between a witness's athletic history and the risks during Spiritual Warrior, that doesn't mean the prosecution should be able to redirect on those same analogies. I'm sure there are some legal fine points to that that have merit. I'm not a lawyer. But whenever Li makes these kinds of arguments he starts to whine like a spoiled kid. Like... It's just so unfair that the other children get to play with his toys just because he's taking all of theirs.

At any rate, I don't think either the defense or Judge Darrow took Li's temper tantrum that seriously. Because you'd better believe Sheila Polk took that ball and ran with it after Li's endless, unbearable, homoerotic paean to former quarterback Lou Caci's athleticism.

Truc Do Cross Examines Dr. Jeanne Armstrong

Dr. Jeanne Armstrong seems like a very steady, grounded woman. She strikes me as someone who doesn't get ruffled by much. For the first hour of her testimony, I found myself thinking that she would be Sgt. Joe Friday's ideal witness. She gives the facts, ma'am. Just the facts. This also makes her a little dull. So it's kind of a double edged sword, I imagine, for the jury.

She became more animated and engaging as she described the post sweat lodge scene and how she was pressed into service as a doctor. Her memory for detail, spacial relations, and sequence, demystified the chaotic scene.  I expect her lack of emotionality made her invaluable in the unfolding crisis.

Dr. Armstrong, with her sometimes eerily detailed memory also seems to be the only person who remembers James Ray doing anything at all as the crisis unfolded. He asked if he could there was "anything else we could or should be doing." Armstrong told him to check with the camp to see if they had a portable defibrillator or AED. He went to check and came back empty.

Prosecutor Bill Hughes had her break down the spectrum of heat related illness from rash to heatstroke. She explained that fatigue and nausea are consistent with heat related illness and delirium is consistent with heatstroke. She also explained "the golden hour." This is the time after a traumatic injury when immediate intervention can improve outcome. In other words it can mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately for Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman, the golden hour had passed before they got the attention they needed.

Under cross, Armstrong explained to Truc Do that she had been puzzled by the pattern of illness. Why was Kirby Brown, a fit, apparently healthy woman near death, when Armstrong, an overweight woman with an active dislike for heat was feeling fine? It is a puzzlement. Although, were I her, I probably wouldn't discount the fact that she had worn a Nike Dri-Fit shirt which, as she explained in direct testimony, is designed to wick moisture away from the skin, thus cooling the body. Not saying that was the only factor, but it might be worth considering.

Do queried Armstrong for some time on possible causes for illness. Did she assume heatstroke simply because the sweat lodge was hot? Obviously not. She's a doctor. She'd want to do a thorough exam before coming to any conclusion.

But as Do picked Armstrong's doctor brain she started getting answers she didn't like. In short, Do could not get Armstrong to explicitly state that dehydration is a necessary cause for heatstroke.

Frankly, this has been a question I've had from the beginning of this trial. The defense's position is that the diagnosis of heat related death doesn't hold water because many of those admitted to the hospital, including those who died, were not found to be dehydrated. Also, core body temperatures weren't as high as would be expected in heat related illnesses. The thing is that I'm not certain that dehydration is a necessary cause for heatstroke. I'm not a doctor and I'm certainly not a specialist in heat related illnesses, but it has not been my understanding that dehydration is always a factor.

Do: Generally speaking with heatstroke there are two components, uh, that, uh, doctors look at to diagnosis heatstroke. And that is elevated core temperature, correct?

Armstrong: Correct.

. . .

Do: Okay, and another component is dehydration.

Armstrong: Um, often people who are experiencing heat exhaustion are dehydrated yes.

Uh oh. But Do doesn't break a sweat. She launches into a series of questions in which she tries desperately to get Armstrong to clearly answer that only old people with heart conditions can die from heatstroke without dehydration; not young healthy people. But Armstrong insists on being all honest and sciency. She tries to explain that there are numerous variables, including underlying conditions on which she's not an expert, and she can't give absolute answers on any of it. At which point Do clarifies that Armstrong is not there to testify on heatstroke because she's not an expert on it and quickly moves on.

So, if I'm to take Armstrong's testimony as credible on the subject of heatstroke, I was correct. Dehydration is often a factor in heatstroke but it's not a necessary cause. Heatstroke occurs because the body builds heat faster than it can dissipate it. The body dissipates heat in three ways: perspiration, respiration, and radiation. Dehydration can cause the body to stop or vastly reduce perspiration and cause heatstroke. But there are other illnesses and conditions that can cause the body to stop sweating or otherwise dissipating heat. Here's one:

The other thing that can lead to heat stroke is very high humidity, which keeps sweat from evaporating.

In either case -- be it the lack of sweat or the inability to evaporate it -- the core body temperature can rise very quickly if it is hot outside.

Hmmm... Didn't a number of people say that the sweat lodge was very, very humid, in addition to being "hellacious hot?" Wasn't the water pourer, Mr. Ray, a bit liberal with the pouring? And wasn't Jeanne Armstrong wearing a moisture-wicking t-shirt?

On redirect, Hughes doesn't split that particular hair. But he does raise the point that I've wanted to see raised for a while. The core body temperature would probably have dropped after the patient had been doused with ice water, waited for quite a while for the paramedics, and been transported a distance to the hospital. Dr. Armstrong agreed on that. He also makes the point that many of the victims received IV fluids and could that make a difference in how dehydrated they were. She expected that it would.

Hughes also asked Armstrong if she thought an airborne toxin would have made everybody ill. In her opinion, it would have made at least the majority of them ill, yes.

So, Jeanne Armstrong did rather substantial damage to the defense's contention that the injuries and deaths were caused by poisoning rather than hyperthermia and heatstroke. I do wish, though, that the prosecution would find an expert to testify directly and explain that dehydration is not an essential component of heatstroke.

The jury had several questions for Jean Armstrong (paraphrased):

When Amy was taken out, was the flap open or closed? It was open.

When they became aware that Amy had passed out was the flap open? They became aware as the round was ending and took her out. It all happened roughly simultaneously

Is it at all possible that Armstrong fell asleep  or into a very relaxed state between rounds 3 and 7 of the sweat lodge? Yes, she was at least into a deep meditative state. She doesn't think she fell asleep but she had no concept of the time. Do asks if she was "lucid" during that time. She said she FEELS like she was lucid.

Hughes asks if she was participating in the speaking out part under Ray's direction? She was.

Was she paying attention to what was going on? She was not because everyone was speaking at once. After that she said it just became incredibly loud and annoying and she tuned out the fifty odd people screaming.

This last answer, I think, lends some insight into Jeanne Armstrong. She can be fairly described as narrowly focused. She is extremely aware of what she wants to be aware of and skilled at shutting out anything she considers to be a distraction. That would explain why her memory can be so detailed on some things but she seems oblivious to chaos, personalities, emotional context, and interpersonal dynamics. Those things don't seem to interest her so she tunes them out. She mentally bypassed all the drama so that it's like she was at a different event than every other witness we've seen so far.

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.


  1. Hi,

    Love the blog about "Death Ray". Please keep it up. I've only read the last two posts but am going to read all asap. Please keep it up.


  2. @flightseeker, Thanks for the feedback. Glad you're finding it useful.

  3. Hello again. Your is the best writing on james ray I've found. I'm backing up to the beginning. Thanks.

  4. LaVaughn - thank you for taking the time to think about ahd share your perceptions and research about the James Ray trial. I've been following this story since I heard that a couple people died in a sweat lodge ceremony outside of town. I live in Sedona and have for many years.

    Arizona has had a LOT of bad press lately and this incident shone not only on Arizona but on the new age scene around Sedona. The James Ray story is not really a Sedona story -- he just capitalized on the mystical image that Sedona seems to have and chose to host his deadly event in the region.

    And that seems to be what he's done with everything else. As far as I can tell, James Ray really only has training in corporate motivational speaking. He must be very good at it. He knows how to work the audience and move on the stage. How did he think to leap from motivational speaking to leading spiritual seekers through bastardized versions of other culture's traditional practices? It's clear that he has no proper training or certifications to be conducting the activities that were part of his Spiritual Warrior event -- and probably in his other workshops. It just amazes me that he had the idiotic gall to think that he could and should be doing this. The formula is all so superficial: 'good looks' (definitely not my type), polished presentation, and promises of 'secret' methods for acheiving success. Listen to him for 2 minutes and it should be clear that he's simply a salesman trying desparately to believe his own BS.

    I have a family member who excels in sales. I've seen him in action -- he is very good. I watched him develop over the years and I was shocked to see how he was able to believe his own BS - to the point that he'd become quite angry if you suggested anything hinting at it being otherwise. Charisma, sales drive, and a lust for the big bucks -- that's the 'winning' formula in the US. Throw in a little spiritual mumbo jumbo to make people believe that greed is good, and you've got a monster.

    Here's something I puzzle over. It seems pretty obvious that many of Ray's tactics are classic mind control devices. The vegetarian diet. Food/sleep deprivation. Keeping the seminar room cold. Controling when participants can go to the bathroom. And so on. I'm sure he used many other such tactics to sell his 'back of the room' stuff to attendess at his informational seminars. Do you suppose he learned these tactics specifically? In other words - did he set out to learn how to apply mass mind control tactics to serve his own interest? If so, how far did he take it?

    I've often puzzled over cult leaders and how they all seem to apply the same tactics. Does it just work out that way or do they actually study the techniques and work at applying them? Maybe it's just a matter of the controller and the controllees needing one another in a game of energetic dynamics in the school of hard lessons.

    At any rate, it's clear that James Ray has no respect for an individual's free will -- only to the point that they freely fall into his web. From then on, he's in control.

    Keep up the good work. Looking forward to this week's continuation of the trial.

  5. Hi Dream Cup,
    I, for one, have never thought of this as a Sedona story except that it unfortunately took place there. And I do think he was capitalizing on the caché. And, let's face it, he's not the only who has. There are some wonderful people there, including some truly great healers. My former teacher is one of them. I've never been in Sedona proper, although I did stay with a friend in, I think it's Cornville, once. It's a beautiful area.

    As to whether or not he was deliberately manipulating people with mind control techniques, this is a question I've gone round and round on. But I have to say, especially after what came out in Gennari's redirect yesterday, that it it's deliberate and with some degree of knowledge of technique. I mean, he could just be a mind control savant, but he's hitting an awful lot of the known wickets for someone who doesn't know what techniques work. And he even lays them out and says, I want to keep you off balance. Really says that. Wow.

    That said, I'm of the belief that abusing power is way too easy and it's something any teacher/leader has to actively counteract. It's not enough to just not intentionally manipulate people. You have to actively keep handing them back their power. People love to hand their power over to authority figures. This is something I haven't written about yet in this context. I'll probably get to it. But you really have to be conscious of it and facilitate independence. It's a human foible that we all want someone to simplify our lives, tell us what to do, and keep us feeling safe.

    On the vegetarian diet, there are people who thrive on a vegetarian diet. My husband is one of them and he's an extremely physically active Marine. I would have felt like Laurie Gennari. I don't eat red meat but if I go too long without animal protein, I'm on the friggin' ceiling. Those who can function on a vegetarian diet probably fared better that week. I probably would have been confessing to the Kennedy assassination by day three.

  6. @ Susan, I'm glad you're enjoying it. I'm enjoying writing it. It's just a fascinating trial. I can't take my eyes off of it. And, let's face it. It's up to us bloggers to document this thing. The news paper coverage has been really thin.


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