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Sweat Lodge Trial Focuses on James Arthur Ray

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on March 18, 2011 10:10 AM

A jury in Camp Verde, Arizona recently heard testimony three deaths during a 2009 sweat lodge ritual orchestrated by James Arthur Ray.

James Arthur Ray, a best-selling author and self-help guru, mixes New Age philosophy with Native American ritual. In October of 2009, 55 participants paid $10,000 each to join him near Sedona for a week of meditation, which was to be followed by a "rebirth" during a sweat lodge ritual.

What happened during that week, and more importantly, in the sweat lodge, is at the center of Ray's reckless manslaughter trial.

Attendees felt like James Arthur Ray made no part of his spiritual retreat optional, Beverley Bunn said in court testimony. If a participant misstepped or was hesitant, she'd be called out and reprimanded in front of the group.

Bunn also explained the pre-sweat lodge events to the Camp Verde jury. After playing odd death games, Ray sent the group on a "Vision Quest" wherein it had to build a Native American medicine circle, reports CNN. The group was then to meditate for 36 hours without food or water. At the end, they were told to drink up in anticipation for the sweat lodge.

In the sweat lodge, everything went wrong. Ray repeatedly told people to stay and be quiet, relays CNN. But, in the end, the heat was too much. Nineteen people collapsed, vomited, had breathing issues, or became unconscious, CNN further details.

And Beverly Bunn? James Arthur Ray wouldn't permit her to perform CPR on any victim, explains The Wall Street Journal.

Because Ray didn't forcibly murder anyone, he is being charged with reckless manslaughter. Reckless manslaughter is usually characterized by a willful disregard or indifference to an unjustifiable risk to human life. In more plain terms, it's the result of an extreme deviation from what a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances.

Prosecutors are mainly focusing on Ray's control and forceful encouragement, as well as the deprivation of food and water directly prior to the sweat lodge. His attorneys, reports CNN, contest the charges and are arguing that any injuries were caused by contaminated soil.

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