Oct 23, 2011

James Ray on Dateline's Deadly Retread

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Buy at Art.com
Buy From Art.com

Okay... so um... yeah... So they aired "Deadly Retreat" as promised on Friday night. I DVR'd it and watched it over coffee with my husband on Saturday morning. So... um... it was... yeah...

As Salty so humorously pointed out, much of the back story was just a retread of the special of the same name that they aired last summer.  So that was about as illuminating as it was then, which is to say not very. And then there was the trial footage and discussion. I have to say that I enjoyed being back in the virtual courtroom, where I spent months of my life... except when Truc Do was talking. Like nails on a chalkboard, that voice.

I know Dateline has to show both sides but I think they did so a little haphazardly and it was confusing. If I hadn't known so much about the trial and the evidence I think I would have been a bit confused as to how they brought in a conviction. I always feel that way when I watch these news magazine treatments of criminal cases. I hate watching them because I'm always left wondering how the verdict was reached based on the evidence I've just seen. But in this case, having watched virtually every moment of the trial that was streamed by CNNLive, I'm in the even more uncomfortable position of knowing where Dateline really failed to make it clear.

The biggest question I would have, after those two hours, is what about the poisoning theory? Could it have been organophosphates? They really plead the defense's case and Beth Karas quite predictably made it sound like organophosphate poisoning was a very valid theory. They never really explained how thoroughly debunked it was, especially by Dr. Dickson, whom they correctly show as having really brought the prosecution's case together.

Judging by my stats over the past couple of days, I'd say a lot of viewers were left with that question. I looked hard at the organophosphate issue throughout the trial and, yes, it was thoroughly debunked, most especially by Dickson, but also as a matter of plain logic. Dateline also did not make clear that the recording of the emergency responder who cited organophosphates, which was the only specific reference to that poison, was background noise in a recording of a police interview which took place in a crowded dining hall. I summarized the case against organophosphates here:

Never mind that the entire organphosphate theory has been demonstrated to be ludicrous by evidence already presented by prosecutors and, in a rather ironic twist, the defense:

  • If there was organophosphate poisoning, the paramedics did everything wrong. They would have killed a bunch of people by causing them drown in their own saliva... which did not happen. (See Dickson)
  • Organophosphates were, in fact, ruled out at the hospital. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that cholinergics were not part of the differential diagnosis by the toxicologist, who found the symptoms consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning. (CO was subsequently ruled out by blood work.) I say this despite Truc Do's complete incapacity to grasp this simple fact. (See Dickson)
  • None of the handful of pesticides so sparingly used at Angel Valley contain organophosphates. (As per Injun Samurai)
  • As per Truc Do's own evidence, death from organophosphate poisoning is an extremely rare event and requires massive exposure. (See Dickson)

Also not clear from Dateline's reporting is that the jury was ultimately unimpressed by the poisoning theory. In an AP interview, juror Phillip Lepacek explained. (Note: The article is no longer at the link provided provided in my post but it can be found here.)

"There were millions of things afterward that just didn't add up to these poisons being there," he said. "Even though the defense didn't have anything to prove or demonstrate, if they could just get those samples and test them and say 'Here it is.' So obviously I'm thinking there was none."

Dr. Matthew Dickson, who reviewed autopsy records and medical reports of the participants for the prosecution, gained major points with the jury because of his experience with heat-related illness and exposure to pesticides, Lepacek said.

Dickson testified he was 99-percent sure that heat caused the deaths, and that the signs and symptoms of the victims were inconsistent with exposure to organophosphates, a pesticide compound.

"It was a no-brainer there was heat," Lepacek said. "These people were baked."

Jury foreman Val Ripley echoed that in his interview with Mark Duncan, explaining that the jury found the poisoning theory "unacceptable."

"I know they didn't have to prove it," he said, "but I think if it could have been proven, the defense would have done a little bit more. I don't know of anybody on the jury who thought that was a valid defense."

I have to say that considering the fact that the two jurors were interviewed by Chris Hansen on the show, their views were surprisingly not well represented. Again, not clear from their statements in the show why they came to the decision they did. It was much clearer from the press reports. It's obvious it was the same two even though they weren't named in the broadcast.

I know that shows like this love dramatic tension but Hansen's claim that the jury was "sharply divided" was laughable. Sharply divided juries don't bring in verdicts in 10 hours.

It's also somewhat interesting that they show Lepacek complaining about the "overkill" of the prosecution's case. Hansen says the "jurors" told them they were frustrated. But only one of them did. Notably, they didn't get a statement on that subject from Ripley, who had this to say to Mark Duncan:

Ripley said he was impressed with the case that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk presented.

"I thought she did an outstanding job from the first day when she laid out her case," he said, noting that he subscribed to Polk's theory that Ray became increasingly more reckless in the way he conducted the ceremonies. "She was very logical, very organized."

Yet, Dateline does make it clear that they were impressed with the defense attorneys. I'm just saying, it's kind of interesting.

I, personally, would like a little more clarity about what the breakdown was in the jury. The two print interviews are in contradiction. The AP article says four jurors wanted manslaughter. The Mark Duncan interview says eight wanted manslaughter. I'm inclined to view the Duncan article as more accurate because Ripley was the foreman and because he was directly quoted as follows:

"We were very close to the manslaughter conviction," Ripley said. "Eight of us wanted manslaughter, and the other four felt that he wasn't aware of all that those people were going through."

If that's the case, the jury's opinions really didn't come across on the show.

A couple of things did come across very clearly as a motivation to convict Ray. The first is Ray's insensitivity and inaction when people were obviously in trouble. Said Ripley:

He basically just walked out of the sweat lodge, they watered him down, hosed him down. He sat down, got a drink. He didn't do nothin.' He didn't, like, seem like he cared.

They also indicated that the audio tapes of Ray during Spiritual Warrior really affected the jury. Lepacek said that they showed that he could come across much more powerfully and convincingly than the timid appearance he gave in court, adding credence to the idea that he had a strong influence over the behavior of participants. The really damning statements offered up by Dateline were the everpopular, "I... Am... God!" (as discussed here) and the absolutely shocking,"At some point in time, you just have to let go and say, 'If I'm gonna die, it's OK, because I don't ever die.'"

Buy at Art.com
Buy From Art.com

They also emphasized, to some degree, the power of Dr. Dickson's testimony but they really didn't show enough of it. I could have done with a lot more from Dickson. He was awesome. And, of course, he handed Truc Do her ass which scored major points with me, personally... but I wasn't on the jury. So never mind.

I also have to say that Hansen's language shows some bias.

One part of the prosecution's case did get their attention.

Really. Only one part. And yet they got a conviction. Explain that, lab partner.

There are some other nuggets to be mined from Dateline's coverage. As noted in my write-up on the original broadcast, Ray reveals a lot about himself with his language.

But such is the muddled, mixed message that typifies Ray's work. Dateline includes this segment from  his appearance on Oprah. Says Ray:

Not what can I get but what can I give and how can I serve. And when you're in that moment the universe lines up behind you and it's at your command.

So are you supposed to be serving the universe or ordering it around? The moment you go from that surrendered place that allows you to consciously merge with the universe to one in which you are so in your ego that you start "commanding" things, that sense of limitless unity is gone. We can either become conscious of our oneness with all that is or delude ourselves into thinking we're the king of the world. We can't do both. One is the experience of mystical awareness. The other is just grandiosity.

Another major tell emerges in the interview with Ginny Brown, mother of the late Kirby Brown. She recounts for Hansen what Ray said to her when he finally got around to calling her five days later.

He didn't apologize. He said, I'm so upset and I have to find out what happened. He said, "This is the most awful thing that has ever happened to me in my life."

I really can't imagine what goes on in the mind of someone who would tell a mother who's just lost her daughter that it was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. It's beyond narcissistic and just stunningly insensitive.

Another statement that jumped out at me this time 'round was interview footage of Ray describing how the law of attraction brings wealth and success into your life.

You gotta to be in the right place at the right time, do the right things, get the right opportunities, make the right decisions meet the right people, and get the right results.

He says it with that same angry intensity that I've noted before. And he punches the word "right" every time he says it in this rapid-fire litany of wickets that you just have to hit. The whole thing just gives me agita. It's another example of building urgency language, like his "time is short" lecture at the beginning of Spiritual Warrior. Implied: Whatever you do, for the love of God, don't make any mistakes. A single wrong choice -- or wrong thought -- and it'll all just go to hell. Also implied: You need me to help you be perfect enough to magnetize the right things.

I know a two hour show can't do justice to a four month trial but this was mostly style without substance. It was very shiny and had lots of lovely shots of Sedona, but it could not help but leave viewers with a lot of questions. Worse, it could leave a distorted perception about the strength of the prosecution's case. They also didn't really put across what a reprobate Ray is. For instance, they didn't discuss at all that Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman, weren't his first casualties -- that less than three months before that Colleen Conaway fell to her death during another Ray event. James Ray has far more to answer for than is evident Dateline's treatment of this horrific tragedy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Opinions and ideas expressed in the comments on this page
belong the people who stated them. Management takes no
editorial responsibility for the content of public comments.