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Author convicted in sweat lodge deaths

Associated Press / June 23, 2011

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CAMP VERDE, Ariz. — A self-help author who led a deadly sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona was found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide yesterday.

Jurors in the case against James Arthur Ray began deliberating Tuesday after a four-month trial. Ray showed no reaction as the verdict was read. His parents and brother sat behind him, while victims’ family members and friends held hands and looked on from across the courtroom.

Prosecutors asked that Ray be taken into custody immediately, but the judge denied the request. 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 after the ceremony meant to provide spiritual cleansing. Eighteen were hospitalized, and several others were given water to cool down at the scene.

Ray’s lawyers said the deaths were a tragic accident. Prosecutors argued Ray recklessly caused the fatalities.

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.’’

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