Mar 23, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 17

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Just a few more thoughts on Laurie Gennari:

I realize that it may sound to some people like I'm being overly preferential to her because she's a good witness for the prosecution. I've never made it a secret that I'm biased in this case and that it would take a lot to convince me that James Ray was not responsible for this tragedy. I would make a lousy juror. I've been following this event since it occurred and he rapidly made a very negative impression on me. But that's not why I find Gennari so credible.

The truth is I'm relatin' to Laurie Gennari way too much. And a lot of the hairs split by Li in yesterday's cross are meaningless to me because I've been where she is and where she was.

  • Over-committed and hyper-achieving? For much of my life. 
  • Looking at people through rose colored glasses? Check. 
  • Insisting, including to myself, that I was fine when I wasn't? Yup. 
  • Forced cheerfulness especially when I was really at my worst? Hells yeah. 
  • Handing over way too much power to people who seemed to know more than I did? Learned the hard way on that one. 
  • Rescripting things that people have done and said to make them look better in my own mind? Oh yes.

I've never had the misfortune to be in anything as horrific as that sweat lodge and its aftermath. But the dynamics Gennari is now realizing she was involved in and the painful disillusionment that goes with that? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Melinda Martin

I want to call Melinda Martin "Event Coordinator Barbie" -- because of the resemblance and because she was the event coordinator for JRI. But also because I've always thought of Barbie as a very smart, capable, independent woman of numerous careers and aptitudes. Martin strikes me as level headed and capable and exactly the kind of person you want in a job like that. That is, unless you're James Arthur Ray and value sycophancy over ability. Martin testified, for instance, that Dream Team members were hired based on how easy they were to get along with. And Martin, who had only a passing acquaintance with Ray's "teachings" was clearly nowhere near brainwashed enough in her short job tenure to go with the flow when all hell broke loose after the sweat lodge.

Martin's testimony started to become really interesting when she was asked about the Marzvaan sisters. These mysterious Russian gals have been referred to by the defense repeatedly. We've heard from Li, Kelly, and Do, on various occasions that they exercised their free will and they left because they didn't care for the event. It turns out their exercise of free will did not go smoothly. Martin had witnessed an argument between Soheyla Marzvaan and Megan Fredrickson. Soheyla wanted to take her sister and go home. "I want to get my sister. She came here with me. And I want to leave."

Two Dream Team members blocked the door and told her that her sister was "having her own experience."

The argument between Fredrickson and Marzvaan escalated in volume and intensity. Martin quietly alerted Josh Fredrickson as soon as she saw the problem developing -- because she has some acquaintance with professionalism. He stepped in to defuse the situation. He told Martin to get the sister out of the Samurai Game, pack them up, and get them out as quietly as possible.

Martin took them on a golf cart to their rooms to pack up and attempted to do some damage control. The Marzvaan sisters felt they were being "forced to stay" and that it was "too much work for them to leave when they wanted to."

Martin says the entire episode lasted about forty minutes.

Sheila Polk asked Martin about her observation of the recapitulation journaling. She said she had seen participants spend "countless hours" writing in their journals. We already know that many of them were foregoing sleep to write.

The more concerning revelation that came through her testimony was the extent to which James Ray was personally involved in the journaling. She had witnessed numerous recapitulation events, in the Crystal Hall, in which participants discussed their journals with Ray. There was a lot of crying and "breakdowns."

The reason I find this revelatory is that it answers the question I've had about just how private these journals were. It was definitely not as simple as purging onto some pages and throwing them in fire before the sweat lodge as a cleansing ritual. Ray was directly involved in their psychological processing. His hierarchy of help with recapitulation has been discussed. But it sounds like he was very involved in hearing these very personal details. This is particularly alarming considering that the theme was sex... and that there was a lot of crying.

Martin also assisted in the Holotropic Breathwork. Martin had been instructed to do the breathing in people's ears if they stopped doing the rapid breathing. I'm quite sure that Martin is not certified by Stan Grof either.

The subject of certification came up in Polk's questioning, not about Holotropic Breathwork, but about the Samurai Game, or should I say the the Samurai Game®. This was shot down immediately with a sustained objection from the defense. I don't know what the legal reason is for that or whether the issue will be taken up at a later time but the simple truth is that James Ray is not a certified facilitator of this proprietary game. I know this because I downloaded a pdf from the website which lists their certified facilitators and his name does not appear.

Martin was an angel of death. She and the others wore Scream costumes. Among other responsibilities, this meant taking the dead to the cemetery by golf cart, where they were supposed to remain motionless.

Martin explained what happened if anyone moved after death. They were brought before "God" and he would decide which of their townspeople would die. People had to slit their own throats or stab themselves in the stomach.

She described Kirby Brown as being very uncomfortable after the event but we all knew that. Holding your water for hours and swallowing your own vomit takes a toll.

Melinda Martin was also present for the wine incident. She explains that it was after Dream Team members had spent a day enjoying themselves in Sedona, while participants were in the desert without food or water. Martin testified that she had breakfast with Ray who also had a meal. In other words, he did not participate in the vision quest activities. Lead by example and all that.

While in town a number of them had had their auras read by one of the many psychics in Sedona. When they returned and were setting up their dinner in the Crystal Hall, Ray came by. Some of the women wanted to have their aura's read by Ray, their admired leader and teacher. His assessment of their auras? "Sex, sex, sex, sex." That was all they were thinking and talking about, according to Ray. Martin testified that they had not been talking about sex at all. The women were very hurt after having had lovely and affirming aura readings done earlier in town, to have gotten nothing but judgment for having sex drives by Ray. 

As a side note, I find it interesting that Ray needled them for their focus on sex when he had his participants journaling and crying endlessly over sex, sex, sex, sex.

About an hour later, Ray came through again and saw the open wine bottles on the table. He "admonished" the entire group but singled out Martin in particular. He was "shaking and pointing his finger" at her because she was a paid employee and, therefore, responsible. The women had said that they'd had wine during their off time without incident in the past. Martin had also cleared it with Angel Valley. But Ray was "so angry" there was really no discussing it.

After they all apologized to him -- well, except for Jennifer Haley -- Ray indicated that he still blamed Martin.

Martin also had a bird's eye view of the sweat lodge. And she soon became concerned that something was wrong.  So, apparently, did one of the participants who left the sweat lodge early on saying, "This is bad. This feels really bad... This is wrong."

She spent a lot of time taking care of people as they left the sweat lodge in increasing numbers and increasing distress. She bandaged Lou Caci's "melting" arm. She heard Dennis Mehravar's screaming about not wanting to die.

She began to get disapproval from the seasoned support staff. She was directed by Marta Reis to "get that look off [her] face because people are gonna think something's wrong." But Martin thought something was wrong. Reis told her that it was all perfectly normal. Martin was incredulous.

This is where it gets, I think, very tricky for the defense. If this was poisoning and these symptoms -- the fainting, the vomiting, the delirium -- were from a toxin, why did Ray and his staff think it was all normal?

It was normal for James Ray. He and two of his staff members, Megan Fredrickson and Taylor, came out looking like they'd been in a spa. Everyone else looked like hell. Even Josh Fredrickson looked like hell. Martin found Ray's condition baffling. But by then she was in emergency mode, attending to the needs of the many people who did not look like they'd been in a spa.

Someone named Kristina Bivins needed help. She was hanging off the tarp in the gravel. Melinda tried to help her get onto the tarp and comfort her. But Bivins was irrational; kicking and screaming "I don't want you. I want James." Martin recognized that she was not in her right mind.

She also performed CPR on Kirby Brown who was a "grayish, purple color." She was making a strange sound that Martin described as a "death rattle" and she was vomiting a lot. She worked with her until Jeanne Armstrong took over.

Like every witness so far except for Jeanne Armstrong, she did not see James Ray do anything at all.

Martin also assisted the paramedics when they arrived. She helped to convince Lou Caci to go to the hospital. He thought he was fine and was more concerned about Liz Neuman. But Martin recognized that he was "not in his right mind."

She followed ambulances to Cottonwood Hospital at the request of the paramedics. But once she'd arrived, she was denied access because she wasn't family.

She found out the helicopters had gone to Flagstaff and drove the hour and half there. Stephen Ray, Tess Wong, Sidney Spencer, Liz Neuman, were there and in terrible shape. Wong was intubated and unconscious. Spencer was vomiting blood. She stayed with Liz Neuman for as long as she could having grown very fond of her.

Kelly Crosses Martin

Melinda Martin is an exaggerator. If jury members didn't know that before Tom Kelly's cross examination, I'm sure they do now. I lost count of the number of times he used various forms of the word "exaggeration" in his questioning. He took every available opportunity to point out that she was exaggerating. He was only slightly more artful than George W. Bush was with the endless use of the phrase "war on terror." In politics, it's called message discipline. Say something enough times and people will begin to believe in as axiomatic. And, yes, a direct comparison between message discipline and the previously discussed thought stopping jargon can be made.

Kelly could be fairly described as hostile toward Melinda Martin. He didn't get far before he started outright insulting her. Of course, that's because of her tendency to exaggerate.

At least some of his hostility stems from her media interviews. He specifically challenged her for saying on ABC news that the EMTs thought it was a mass suicide. But Martin stood by her story. So if anyone was exaggerating it was that EMT.

He badgered Martin endlessly over waivers even though she repeatedly explained that this was not part of her job description. She had, apparently not been required to sign a waiver as an employee.

Then he began to ask her numerous questions about the employees and structure of JRI which Martin explained was beyond the scope of her knowledge as well. Said Martin, "Of course you know I'll be guessing on all this."

Kelly drew a chart anyway, based on Martin's unqualified memory of the corporate structure. But Judge Darrow clarified that a lawyer's statements and drawings are not evidence.

Kelly proceeded to name employees and their jobs and ask if she knew them and what they did. She had no clear idea of who did what, so she mostly answered, "If you say so." 

After establishing that Martin could barely help him with his chart Kelly snarked, "You did know that your were there as the event coordinator?"

Kirby challenged Martin over her previous claims that she had little contact with Ray and that he was protected by Megan. His point, though, is to further insulate Ray and imply that Ray is not in charge of things. JRI is.

And the reason I point that out is remember that whole thing about exaggeration? You were asking, answering questions attributing it to my client when actually it was JRI... And you were part of that corporate entity; part of this group... I believe there's twenty-seven employees... pretty good sized company. And all of them with different roles and responsibilities... James Ray was not putting on the Spiritual Warrior by himself.

He described Ray as someone who came in to lecture and lead various activities. All else falls under the providence of JRI, according to Kelly.

This is from what seems to be a widowed page on James Ray's website. (I couldn't find a website for JRI.)

James is President and CEO of his own multi-million dollar corporation, James Ray International (JRI), which was named to Inc. Magazine's coveted Inc. 500 list of America's fastest-growing private companies in the September 2009 issue, reaching a remarkable 547.4% growth over the previous three years.

Kelly Plays JRI Pictionary Game

Presented with a photograph, Martin said she couldn't identify it with any certainty as a picture of the 2009 sweat lodge. Kelly responded, "Let's assume for a minute that is."

He then began pointing out everyone who didn't look shaved to him. The defense's new tack is to say that it wasn't head shaving but hair cutting. So now they're splitting hairs over hair length. Apparently, in this photo, that may or may not be from the sweat lodge in question, some of the people aren't quite bald. Kelly wants her to say that it was a cut, then, not a shave. Martin says, "I saw a buzzer."

Kelly's claim is that unless a person is shaved bald -- something we know James Ray insisted on in at least some cases -- it's a cut, not a shave. That Martin thinks it's a shave is, you guessed it, an exaggeration.

After a brief recess, Kelly came back with more questions about her media appearances. Martin explained that she had been "ambushed" by ABC News, having declined to be interviewed, and having not intended to talk to the media at all. Eventually though, she figured she was in for a penny, in for a pound. Also she found talking about the incident therapeutic.

At that point, Kelly seized on the therapy comment, insisting that she had been told by a therapist not to talk about it. Martin, clearly, had no idea what he was talking about. After some wrangling, Kelly produced a letter from a doctor, not a therapist, who had written a letter for Martin to excuse her from returning immediately to work. Funny thing is, it didn't appear to say anything at all about how she should not talk about the event.

What followed was the production of a Disability claim. Martin explained that Megan Fredrickson had insisted on filling one out for her and she had signed it but that she had never wanted to pursue it and let her claim drop.

Kelly kept reminding her that she was under oath which she seemed untroubled by. He seemed to be under the impression that it was Disability who had dropped the claim, not Martin.

Once again, the defense has produced documents without providing them to the prosecution and with specious reasoning. The document from her doctor, which he'd produced to impeach her testimony, was not from a therapist, as he had claimed, and didn't say anything about her being advised not to talk about it. This, of course, led to more lengthy legal wrangling over what falls under disclosure rules. That remains unresolved.

What came out, though, under his relentless questioning, was a good description of PTSD... once again. Martin has had a very hard time processing the events of that day.

It seems to me, that Kelly is making the same mistake with Martin that he did with Beverley Bunn. When finding them to be a little too smart to sign off on his narrative he loses his bearing and becomes increasingly nasty and sarcastic. He repeatedly snapped at Martin, "You having difficulty understanding my question?" Her consistent response? Yes.

The problem for Kelly is that his questions are often poorly phrased and/or based on erroneous information. And when the witnesses become confused by his questions or keep answering him in the negative, he turns it back on them as if they're lying, stupid, or both. This just makes him look like a bully who doesn't have his facts straight.

I don't see how Kelly's acting like a dick helps the defense. I'm not in the jury and this could be my problem entirely. I, personally, have an aversion to condescension but I can only speak for myself on that.

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. I muted Kelly twice - He's a nasty fellow He doesn't regard the witnesses as victims. I wonder how some of those women stay controlled. I'd be after his ass - with extreme sublety of course. My take is that ray is psychopathic. He charms the public as way of controlling it; he is aggressive and demeaning in attempts to control his followers. No jeykll-hyde's hide-hyde.

  2. @Susan, I'm with ya. It's funny. I started out thinking Kelly was the only one of Ray's attorney's with an EQ above his shoe size. I still do think that, actually. I just wish he'd use his interpersonal skills for good instead of evil. He's leveraging the emotions of these people to such a degree I can't help wondering if he and Ray don't have confabs about their vulnerabilities and how to leverage them. As to Ray, con artists tend to be sociopaths. He's at the very least a narcissist... and a sick twist.


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