Self-help author convicted of negligent homicide

CAMP VERDE, Ariz. (AP) — A jury has convicted a self-help author who led a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona that left three people dead.

Jurors in Camp Verde, Ariz., reached their verdict Wednesday after a four-month trial.

James Arthur Ray was found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide.

More than 50 people participated in the October 2009 sweat lodge that was meant to be the highlight of Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” seminar near Sedona.

Three people died following the sauna-like ceremony meant to provide spiritual cleansing. Eighteen were hospitalized, while several others were given water to cool down at the scene. Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed over whether the deaths and illnesses were caused by heat or toxins.

Ray’s attorneys have maintained the deaths were a tragic accident.

Ray used the sweat lodge as a way for participants to break through whatever was holding them back in life. He warned participants in a recording of the event played during the trial that the sweat lodge would be “hellacious” and that participants were guaranteed to feel like they were dying but would do so only metaphorically.

“The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you’ll ever experience is the fear of what? Death,” Ray said in the recording. “You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it’s OK to die.”

Witnesses have described the scene following the two-hour ceremony as alarming and chaotic, with people dragging “lifeless” and “barely breathing” participants outside and volunteers performing CPR.

Two participants — Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee — died upon arrival at a hospital. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., slipped into a coma and died more than a week later at a Flagstaff hospital.

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