James Ray Trial Background
From July to October 2009 four people died during personal development trainings he led, including three deaths (and about 20 hospitalisations) in a fake sweat lodge in Arizona. Ray has been charged with three counts of manslaughter. A pattern of physical and psychological (as well as financial) abuse has been uncovered by investigators.
In July 2009 (two months before the infamous sweat lodge incident), a participant in a seminar led by James Ray took her own life. Colleen Conaway‘s death was witnessed by Ray’s staff, who then abandoned her body. They concealed the death from other participants and lied about it to the authorities.
The San Diego police prematurely and rather haphazardly declared it “suicide”. Had they investigated the matter in a more professional manner, they would have swiftly uncovered deeply disturbing aspects of the case, including the extraordinarily deceitful behaviour of Ray and his staff. After they had confirmed her death with authorities, they left messages of concern (“we’re worried about you, please call”) on Colleen’s cell phone, which they themselves had collected from her and had in their possession.
Ray and his staff were successful in covering up their involvement in Colleen’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. Colleen’s family were left dealing with why a loved one “committed suicide”. Ray was left free to endanger more lives in his ruthless and reckless pursuit of profit.
A couple of months later in Arizona, Ray and his staff were again trying to cover up their involvement in the deaths of participants.
A sweat lodge which was aimed at deliberately pushing people beyond their physical limits in order to attain a particular psychological state, ended with dozens in severe physical distress, two dead and a third person in a coma, who eventually died.
Participants were herded into a dark low tent and cooked for more than two hours. They were told it was an authentic traditional Lakota style sweat lodge; that they would “feel like they were going to die” but they “will not die, you will be looked after”. The aim, they were told, was to achieve an altered state of consciousness – like dying and leaving the body.
The majority had no prior experience with sweat lodges and thought they were participating in a tried and tested event which Ray had learned and mastered. They were told that Ray’s staff would be there to take care of them should they enter an “altered state” or passed out.
They were not safe, and some were left to die while Ray went off to have a shower, staff members hid from police, and participants struggled to save each others lives. Witness accounts read like a horror movie.
In the ensuing chaos, staff member Megan Fredrickson hid from authorities, instead of providing them with personal details of the dead and injured. Ray was trying to play down the extent of the catastrophe, ordering the injured to stand up and walk to their room if they could, to avoid being seen by emergency workers. Later that night he sent out an email describing the even a “success” despite some participants having “taken ill”. This time however, Ray and his team failed to convince authorities of their pure motives, and Ray was eventually arrested and charged with three counts of manslaughter.
A few days after the incident, Ray held a conference call with some of his followers, in which he asked an employee to recount a channeling session in which the medium gave an explanation of why people had died. It was recounted that the victims had been enjoying an out of body experience and were “having such fun they didn’t want to come back.”
One victim, James Shore, left a wife and two young children behind. For Ray to proclaim that he did not want to see them anymore is….Words fail me.
Shore had managed to drag out one unconscious participant. He saved her life. He returned to try to save another, but collapsed and never recovered. A crucial aspect of the trial will be the account that Ray was informed that one of the victims was unconscious and needed to be taken out.
They closed the flap starting the 7th round. It was then someone said, “she’s not breathing; I can’t get her to move”. James Ray said, “doors down; we will deal with it later”.
Later, amid the chaotic scenes of people collapsing, being carried out unconscious, people having seizures, Ray was getting hosed down and sitting under a tree. Josh Fredrickson claimed he had bumped his head on one of the sticks that was supporting the lodge. He was having a drink and sitting with his wife Megan.
In in response to a demand that he do something to help, as three people were receiving CPR and dozens were in serious distress or unconscious,
James Ray looked at one of his female staffers and said “they’ll be okay.”
Another victim, Kirby Brown left behind her loving family and countless friends. She clearly loved her full and adventurous life, and had everything to live for. According to witnesses Ray had refused to let her be dragged out, saying “we will deal with her later”. (This will be a key issue in the trial.)
The third victim, Liz Neuman was lying in a coma on life support at the time of the conference call. She had been a devoted follower and friend of James Ray for seven years. Ray did not visit her.
Ray has been defending himself on two fronts: one, with his legal team, preparing a defense for the trial; and two, dealing with the public relations disaster.
Part of the defense strategy will be to shift the blame onto the victims, and claim that “no one was prevented from leaving”. This is both an egregious stretching of the truth, and an outright lie, but it will sound plausible enough to people unfamiliar with the case and the media.
In one short article it is impossible to give a sufficient impression of the extent Ray’s hypocrisy, deceitfulness, cheating, and brutal callousness, arrogance and stupidity.
As well as the blog articles from here listed below, please also see The Salty Droid for the first and last word. Cassandra Yorgey also has some excellent coverage (click through the articles), as well as numerous other blogs and mainstream media. For a deep and exhaustive analysis, this thread on the Rick Ross forum is well worth scrolling through.
Witness statements and interview transcripts have been uploaded:
More police interviews here.
Good summary of extracts from witness statements, put together by a former student of Ray here.
Timeline of events, with links to a relevant articles.
In fairness to Ray, here is a link to the “White Papers” which his lawyers prepared back in the good old days when they thought he was only going to be charged with 3x negligent homicide and not 3x manslaughter…..What? How did that happen? I accidentally linked to Salty Droid‘s edited for truth and ridicule version.
Oh well, no article on this blog is complete without a link to the Droid, so here’s his poston it as well. (Plus brilliant photoshop of Ray in intimate embrace with his No. 1 fan!)
I’ll post more about the trial as it unfolds – bit hard to stay current from here in Germany. Excellent up to date blog coverage on Salty Droid’s James Ray Trial Updates page, with extensive background info.
Other coverage on this blog:
My take on Ray’s defense strategies (Feb 2011)