Judge Allows Live Coverage In Sweat Lodge Case
CAMP VERDE, Ariz. (AP) — A motivational speaker who led a sweat lodge ceremony where three people died will have his manslaughter trial broadcast live, a judge decided Friday.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow granted the request by In Session, formerly known as CourtTV, to televise James Arthur Ray’s trial. Ray has pleaded not guilty to the three manslaughter charges stemming from the deaths near Sedona in October 2009.
Darrow has allowed one still and one video camera in previous hearings, but had not addressed live coverage before Friday.
In Session’s request said the live coverage would advance Arizona’s tradition of courtroom access. Prohibiting it would be akin to telling the media when it can publish information, attorney David Bodney said.
“The public has substantial rights to know about the activities here,” he said.
County attorney Sheila Polk expressed concern that witnesses might be intimidated by live coverage and that it would affect fair trial rights. She also argued that media coverage would be exasperated by live coverage, but not with delayed television footage.
“Nobody, and especially the state, has objected to coverage of this trial,” she said. “This is not an issue of the state wanting to operate in the dark. The issue is of live camera coverage.”
Darrow said the likelihood of harm does not outweigh the public’s right to coverage of the trial. He instructed attorneys on both sides to contact witnesses and remind them to avoid any exposure to media accounts of the case and that they cannot hear the testimony of others during the trial.
“There has to be an instruction out there, or there will be a problem,” he said.
Darrow’s instructions do not apply to families of the victims, who have a right under Arizona law to hear the testimony of all witnesses even if they personally are testifying.
Jury selection ended late Friday — the sixth of 65 days set aside for the trial. Eighteen people were selected, with six serving as alternate jurors. With that, Darrow essentially denied a motion by defense attorneys to have the trial moved out of Yavapai County.
The defense had contended that an impartial jury couldn’t be seated because of pretrial publicity.
Darrow said he will issue rulings on a number of pending motions Monday, a day before opening statements begin.
Those include a request by prosecutors for reconsideration of a ruling prohibiting any testimony of previous sweat lodge events held by Ray.
Defense attorneys are seeking to exclude an audio recording of Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event that culminated with the sweat lodge ceremony. They also want to prohibit some of the state’s witnesses from testifying, including experts on large group awareness training and corporate risk management.
Three people died following the sweat lodge ceremony — Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y.; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn. Eighteen others were hospitalized, and some participants reported no problems.
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