CAMP VERDE, Ariz. (AP) – When prosecutors in a self-help author’s trial argued that the families of three people who died following his sweat lodge ceremony suffered emotional harm, the defense didn’t dispute that.
But any family who loses a loved one grieves, regardless of the circumstance, defense attorney Tom Kelly told jurors who are considering emotional harm as one of three aggravating factors in the sentencing phase of James Arthur Ray’s trial. The real question, he said, is whether Ray caused it.
“These people who were in the sweat lodge, 50 of them, were free to leave, free to enter,” Kelly said Wednesday.
Ray was convicted last week of three counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, and Liz Neuman, 48, of Prior Lake, Minn.
The jury was deliberating Wednesday afternoon on a trio of aggravating factors — emotional harm, Ray’s position of trust with the victims and pecuniary gain — that could lengthen Ray’s sentence. They adjourned without reaching a decision and will resume deliberations Thursday.
Ray is facing more than 11 years in prison, but the offenses also are probation-eligible.
Brown’s mother, Shore’s wife and Neuman’s daughter struggled with their emotions Tuesday as they testified about how they learned of the deaths and the limited information they were given.
“Mr. Ray took their money, their trust, their dreams and the lives of Kirby Brown, Liz Neuman and James Shore,” Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in asking jurors to find that the state has proven the aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
Kelly unsuccessfully asked Judge Warren Darrow to strike two of the aggravating factors Tuesday. A day later, he argued that Ray did not profit from the deaths and urged the jury to make a distinction between Ray and his corporation, James Ray International.
Kelly contends Ray did not, nor did he intend to, profit from the deaths and urged the jury to make a distinction between Ray and his corporation, James Ray International. Prosecutors failed to show that Ray had a unique position of trust with the victims or other participants who chose to take part in the October 2009 ceremony near Sedona, he said.
“Mr. Ray had nothing to gain from the deaths of the sweat lodge participants,” the defense said. “To the contrary, he had everything to lose and in fact did lose everything as the aftermath of the sweat lodge incident has shown.”
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