Apr 6, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 24

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

James Ray: Hunk or Charlatan? Discuss.

Connie Joy and Lori Lovens are two of the bright, capable survivors of James Ray's self-improvement program who give the lie to stereotypes of Ray's followers as weak, gullible, and desperate. Both have written books sharing what drew them in to Ray's web and the events that caused them both to extricate themselves.

Tragedy in Sedona: My Life in James Arthur Ray's Inner CircleConnie Joy is a veteran of numerous James Arthur Ray events and seminars, including the 2007 sweat lodge. Like many people that year, she was made quite ill by the heat. Even so, it took the discovery that money she and her husband Richard had "invested" in the World Wealth Society all went to lining Ray's pockets, instead of charitable purposes, to finally break from Ray. In this wonderful interview on A Book and a Chat Joy breaks down the realizations she had before and after separating from Ray. I highly recommend taking in this one hour discussion which can still be heard on BlogTalk Radio.

I originally posted on Connie Joy here after hearing her interviewed on In Session. I find her first-hand observations on Ray's machinations to be astute, insightful, and compelling. She speaks from a place of having been immersed in something only to later understand how much she and her husband had manipulated. In this interview she explains how Ray utilizes Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and group hypnosis in his seminars. She and her husband, who have always been cautious and conservative with their money, found themselves very uncharacteristically paying out huge sums to Ray before having their rude awakening.

Joy also discusses in some detail the experience of the 2007 sweat lodge and how that event, while not as hot as 2009, still caused many people to become nauseous, as she did, and even unconscious. She considers some of the participants lucky to be alive after the 2007 event and had deep concerns for the future; concerns that were sadly realized in 2009. She also touches on the earlier death of Colleen Conaway in San Diego.

In this interview Joy also shares about the personal journey of transformation that took her from a conservative Catholic upbringing, through experiences with near death and past lives, and onto the path of a spiritual seeker.

Connie Joy is also scheduled to appear again on In Session tomorrow, April 7, at around 11:35 EDT, 8:35 PDT.

The Labyrinth: A True Life Adventure Seeking Wisdom, Healing and LoveYesterday on In Session, former member of James Ray's inner circle Lori Lovens was interviewed by Ryan Smith. Loven's described being very drawn in by Ray at a teaser event. She liked his message, his energy, and his hunkiness. From The Labyrinth:

Intelligent. Dynamic. Articulate. The trifecta. The hat trick of the male species. I dabbed at the left corner of my mouth throughout the evening, fearful I might literally be drooling. He is my idea of physical perfection. A solid six feet, broad shoulders, thick chest, short dark hair with just a touch of gray at the temples. Slightly tanned, a healthy tan. Big hands, long arms. The perfect mass of a man, imposing yet approachable. And sexy in a suit. His presence is powerful, radiating an irresistible magnetic force. I suspect that he’s brilliant—it’s important to me that he’s brilliant.

Lovens thought she was attracted to the outward appearances. She came to realize that what she was really drawn to was his exhibition of "power." But over the course of her spiritual journey, Lovens's views on what constituted real power changed. Her ideas about power had been honed by her corporate background. She defined this as a "masculine, controlling, kinda make things happen energy." As she began to redefine power as  "gentler, truly more intuitive, and allowing energy" her attraction to Ray began to dissipate.

Lovens's fondness for Ray really began to deteriorate after she broke her wrist at a Modern Magick seminar. Her sister was also injured receiving a compound fracture in her hand that required surgery. They were attempting, as per Ray's instruction, to break a concrete block with a karate chop. "Not only had I never considered that I wouldn't hurt myself, I'd never considered that the brick wouldn't break. I mean I was that, that convinced of what I could accomplish."

Lovens deduced that Ray's team was "instructed" not to respond. While at least 15 other people were in the ER, Ray and his team were enjoying dinner at a luau. Later, Ray only asked her what she had learned from her experience. He never acknowledged the injuries.

She saw Ray for the next time six months later when she went to his event in Egypt. She tried to have a "heart to heart" with him on the bus ride. Hoping to dispel the tension over her injury, she asked him how he felt about the injuries at Modern Magick. His response was that it was only a "small portion" of the participants who were injured. But there were at least twenty people with broken bones, one of whom was Lou Caci who'd been demonstrating the technique on stage.

Lovens takes issue with the defense's contention that people could have just walked out of the sweat lodge. Ray, she says, is "a master" at putting people into "an altered state of consciousness." He employed a variety of methods like Holotropic Breathwork (in which he is not trained or certified) trance dancing, and other sadly aped shamanic techniques. I would take some issue with her description of altered state of consciousness, but I take her overall point. He deliberately made people disoriented by, among other things, depriving them of food and water and subjecting them to extreme levels of heat exposure. "He used his words as a weapon," said Lovens.

What really resonated for me listening to the Lovens interview was her growing awareness that Ray's whole paradigm was about the application of will and determination. This has been one of my central points about Ray and The Secret from the beginning. The whole paradigm is about ego gratification and getting what you want. As we really open spiritually we find that the truest power is in surrender to something greater. And like Lovens, I began that journey inward after being disillusioned by teachers who flattered my ego and promised great rewards while simultaneously tearing me down and trying to make me dependent on their "teachings."

Sheila Polk Argues for Admission of Prior Sweat Lodge Testimony

After a one day break due to juror #4's illness, the trial started off this morning with bang. Judge Darrow heard over an hour of increasingly heated legal arguments, ultimately ruling that he will allow testimony regarding prior sweat lodges. Testimony will have to be narrowly focused and limited to what people reasonably inferred from their observations. Factored into this decision is the medical testimony that has already been presented about the spectrum of heat exposure. In other words, now that the symptoms of heatstroke have been read into evidence, the proper foundation has been laid for testimony about participants exhibiting various symptoms that are consistent with heat related illness.

Judge Darrow made a similar ruling on the first day of the trial, when the prosecution argued that the previously excluded testimony be admitted if it went to the issue of causation. He has been handling these decisions on a case by case basis and has already allowed, for example, testimony from Jennifer Haley as to why after 2007, she never wanted to be inside a sweat lodge again.

Despite the consistency with the prior ruling and despite the fact that Judge Darrow had already specified that his decision on testimony regarding prior illness was pending foundational medical testimony, the defense appeared to be gobsmacked. Luis Li responded with a very public meltdown. He argued that the prosecution can't be trusted to stay within the limitations set by the court and that they will invite all sorts of extraneous emotionalism about "forty people dying" and Daniel P. with his "brain boiling." Here Li is conflating his charge of prosecutorial excess with witness statements that appear in police interviews. Judge Darrow conceded that should such drama erupt it would risk a mistrial.

Because of past excesses of the "boiling brains" variety, Li announced that the defense will be issuing a bench memorandum claiming prosecutorial misconduct. Further, he alerted Judge Darrow, they will be seeking a mistrial.

I find it curious that the defense has been moved to such outrage over a decision that Judge Darrow has been telegraphing for weeks. They were clearly panicking over what scheduled witness Ted Mercer, and other Angel Valley staff members set to testify in the coming days, will be able to testify to having witnessed. One must assume that they were either in total denial or that this was so much grandstanding.

Li started his argument today by insisting that in a witness interview Ted Mercer had made clear that he couldn't state with any certainty what went on with the sweat lodge coverings because he'd only worked at Angel Valley for two days in 2009. Sheila Polk argued that Mercer's foundation on those questions went to the weight rather than the admissibility of that testimony. From there it moved to the ongoing debate about just what witnesses like Mercer could testify about. As these arguments went on, Li went from fairly well-reasoned argument into his more typical hands on hips posture of whining incomprehension. And, for good measure, he threw in one of the defense's characteristically distorted readings of prior testimony.

In this case, it was Dr. Lyon's testimony, which he described as concluding with only 51% certainty that the deaths were caused by heatstroke. This he now characterizes as Dr. Lyon not having been able to say beyond a reasonable doubt that it was heatstroke. This is, of course, wildly inaccurate. What Dr. Lyon said was that he was at least 51% certain that it was heatstroke which is the recognized legal standard for medical certainty. Is Li being ignorant here or disingenuous? It's hard to say.

For all the defense's machinations today, be they honest or otherwise, they were dealt a serious blow. They have tried mightily to keep the prior sweat lodges hidden from the jury because they are really bad for Ray's defense. As stated above, Connie Joy was one of a number of people to become violently ill in 2007. And it didn't get any better in 2008. The last thing the defense team wanted was Ted Mercer, who was there for both prior events, to testify to what he saw with his own lyin' eyes.

As court resumed, Mercer's testimony was delayed further by the hastily prepared (???) mistrial motion. Judge Darrow rather predictably denied it.

Next, Tom Kelly moved for a stay in the jury trial. He argued that the defense was not prepared because they'd never seen this decision coming. They would need time to get their ducks in a row and rethink their strategy. Denied.

Li and Kelly made numerous statements about needing to consider their legal options. Will they file a special action; appeal Judge Darrow's decision to a higher court and force a mistrial? They waved the threat in front of Judge Darrow's nose right up until he called the evening recess over Li's pleas to continue.

I'm struck by the demeanor of the Judge Darrow, Sheila Polk, and Bill Hughes in response to the defense's threats. They seem completely unconcerned. Either they are all very good actors or they're not taking the defense's prospects very seriously. I also noted Truc Do's affect as this was going on. She looked defeated before arguments even started this morning. Did she know the writing was on the wall? Does she simply know the law better than Li and Kelly combined? That seems likely. Or is it just that she's feeling under the weather? Hard to say.

Ted Mercer

Sheila Polk was extremely cautious in her questioning of Ted Mercer, reminding the not courtroom savvy witness to answer yes/no questions with a simple yes or a no.  But it quickly became apparent why the defense was so determined to block the man's recollections of prior events. His recall of 2009 alone was quite damning.

Mercer's work history at Angel Valley was spotty but he had rented a house on the property even when he was not working there and maintained a relationship with owners Michael and Amayra Hamilton.

While Mercer could not testify with absolute certainty on the care, maintenance, and consistent use of the sweat lodge coverings, he quickly established that there was a clear plan and rules for their use. As Fawn Foster had testified, they were stored in the pump house between uses.  He also testified that it was not customary for the staff to use a lot of pesticides around the property.

Mercer had done a fair bit of construction at Angel Valley including Teepees that had been erected for one of Ray's Spiritual Warrior events. More importantly he had assisted in the building of the sweat lodge structure when it was remade in 2008. He testified that the project was overseen by David Singing Bear as discussed here.

Mercer also established himself as thoroughly unqualified to build a sweat lodge or work as the fire keeper. He had no experience doing either before coming to Angel Valley. But under the direction of Singing Bear he helped gather willow branches and bind them with hemp twine for the newly expanded structure, which was designed specifically for Spiritual Warrior 2008.

Mercer described how the structure was then covered with layers of blankets, then tarps, then the later addition of a "rubber deal." That's the brown, shiny covering visible in photos. He believes that was added to Ray's sweat lodge ceremony in 2008, but not used in 2007.

It was about then that Li snapped again and requested time to voir dire the witness. He did so, in order to establish that Mercer was not employed for all of 2009. He'd only worked there on the two days that there were sweat lodges but for the remaining "270 odd days" he was not employed there. So as near as I can tell, a Luis Li year has 272 odd days, as opposed to the more customary 365. I don't know quite how he meant that... Anyway, it was something of a muddle, but he did establish that Mercer could not testify to personal knowledge of the exact provenance of the blankets and tarps. It was abruptly ended by Judge Darrow when it started to wander completely afield into equally unanswerable questions of rat poison.

After Polk returned to direct questioning, she also established that the rat poison repeatedly referenced as being in the pump house, probably originated with statements from Mercer. Upon questioning it also became clear that he had only "assumed" that some blue and white granules near small holes in the walls, for wiring, were rat poison. He doesn't actually know it to be rat poison.

Mercer also testified to his evolving role as assistant fire keeper and later fire keeper for the sweat lodge. He explained how it was his job to "hold the energy" of the fire. He testified that they never used the same rocks twice, taking lava rocks from the creek, heating them for the sweat lodges and later using them to build a wall.

He also explained the use of the mysterious wood. The construction wood was also used in 2008, though not as as much as in 2009. He does not actually know if it's pressed or treated. He only knows that it was construction material they were trying to get rid of.

Mercer, himself, was "practically in the fire" when he was getting the stones in and out; about a half an hour total. He was also near the fire for the entire time. He did not get ill.

It was after a lunch break that Mercer's testimony really got interesting, as he began to testify about previous sweat lodges; Ray's and others.

In 2007, Mercer had observed a tall woman exiting the sweat lodge with her eyes rolling up in her head before she collapsed onto the dirty ground. He dragged her over onto a tarp.

He also described three women who had come out of the sweat lodge who stared right through him. They didn't even know their own names, said Mercer. 

In that year, he estimated about ten people needed assistance after exiting the sweat lodge.

In 2008, he saw a woman come out with severe muscle cramps. She'd remained locked in a fetal position for half an hour to fourty-five minutes.

In both 2007 and 2008 he saw numerous people vomiting and collapsing.

Mercer also explained, as others have, that the water pourer is the leader of the sweat lodge and determines everything from how many rocks go in to how long the door remains open.

He explained that the heat in the sweat lodge is determined by how many heated rocks are used and how hot they are. He admitted that he wasn't as good at getting them hot in the beginning but had gotten really good at heating them by 2009. That was also the year that Ray had requested the most rocks, asking for 100 rocks to be prepared for use. In 2007 and 2008 he'd only asked for 80. He'd also asked Mercer to report to the group that rocks and the fire were the hottest they'd ever been in that year.

As a point of comparison, Polk also carefully questioned Mercer about other sweat lodges in the years he'd been assisting them at Angel Valley. The average number of rocks requested by other sweat lodge leaders was around 24. The highest number, other than Ray's 80-100, had been 30.

The other sweat lodges also ran for about half the time of Ray's; usually 4 rounds and an hour or so.

Coincidentally, Mercer also never witnessed any illness or injury at those other sweat lodges.

Mercer also corroborated a lot of the testimony we've already heard. He was aware of Lou Caci burning his arm. He heard poor Dennis Mehravar screaming that he was "dying." And he heard Ray call over to him that he wasn't dying. So I think we can all be very clear about how responsible James Ray was when faced with the possibility of someone's death.

Another interesting point of comparison between the three years that Mercer had assisted with Ray's sweat lodges was that in 2009 Ray's "encouragement" was "louder" and "longer" than in those two previous years.

Mercer testified that he was not trained in any safety plan but he was made aware that a member of the Dream Team was a nurse. He says they spoke briefly... about the weather.

Mercer also testified to the pandemonium that broke out at the end of the ceremony; people crawling out, red faced, lying in the dirt.

At this point, Mercer went into action, above and beyond his role as fire keeper. It turns out that Mercer is also trained as Emergency Responder Instructor -- something he learned in his capacity as a scuba diver. It was interesting to see the change in his demeanor as he described how he addressed the immediate health concerns he witnessed. He seemed a lot more confident in his knowledge of emergency care than in sweat lodge building or fire keeping. He looked at James Shore and Kirby Brown, saw that they had no vital signs, and immediately told his wife to call 911. He estimated that it was about another half hour before the ambulances began to arrive.

So Ted Mercer is yet another person not paid tens of thousands of dollars who, none the less, rushed to the assistance of people in major distress.

Tom McFeeley who lost his cousin Kirby Brown to James Ray's 2009 sweat lodge posted the following on Twitter:

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. Another great recap!

    Did you notice that during the last sidebar yesterday while the camera were on Ray that he was playing with the BOTTOM of his shoe, eventually rubbing his face with the hand that had been rubbing the BOTTOM of his shoe? So STRANGE!

    April 7, 2011 10:17 AM

  2. @Susan, Ray is always very fidgety and it's kind of hard to watch. It speaks to something and I'm not entirely sure what. I'm sure he's nervous about where this trial is headed... especially now. But I get the sense that he's someone who can't really sit still and, I think this is what's disturbing me, his mannerisms are very childlike. He looks, a lot of the time, like a little kid who's bored in church.

  3. I listened to the Blog radio interview with Connie Joy. Great interview. She touched upon the legal system, which as been bothering me since the beginning of this case. She makes a very good point about how the legal system is broken. It is so frustrating to know that there is important information out there that these jurors need to know. What is even more frustrating is that all the defense needs to do is confuse one juror. And their determination to block the truth is just sickening.

    I'm very impressed by Judge Darrow. He is solid. Everyday I watch this trial I'm thanking the Universe for putting him in the right place at the right time. It seems that he sees right through the defense's posturing. The audacity they have of threatening the Judge, it was almost laughable.


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