James Ray Trial – Ray’s Defense: Nothing But Objections

February 7, 2011

James Ray’s trial for three counts of manslaughter starts on February 16.

Ray’s defense team clearly think he is both guilty as charged, and unworthy of the trust participants placed in him — as can been seen from the strategies they have come up with for his defense:

1. Object to virtually every piece of evidence brought by the prosecution and hope at least some of it will be excluded

2. Blame the participants for trusting Ray

Strategy No. 1: Objections and evasions

James Ray’s legal team have abandoned their original efforts at arguing the innocence of their client. Clearly they think Ray is guilty as hell of the charges brought against him, and have been focusing on trying to squeeze through technical loopholes in the legal system. Unfortunately, they have had some significant success with that strategy, as Judge Darrow has granted their motion to exclude evidence from previous sweat lodges.

Initially, in the White Papers (Jan. 2010 – the link is to Salty Droid’s “improved” version), the defense published an extremely lame and transparent defense of Ray, claiming that previous sweat lodges had been run successfully, and even noted safety precautions that Ray had added over the years. They also seemed to be considering trying to pin it on the owners of the property where the event took place.

That strategy was based on their own “investigations”, before they got to see the masses of evidence against Ray gathered by the prosecution.

What the prosecution revealed is a pattern of risk-taking, abusive and exploitive practices in all of Ray’s events and a history of sweat lodge events which were run in a similarly dangerous and negligent manner.

In 2005, Ray refused to help a woman in the sweat lodge was having trouble breathing. He ordered a member of staff to be quiet about the matter because the “ceremony has started”. From the prosecution’s summary:

Following the ceremony [former staff member]  stated Defendant left to shower and people were looking to her for help in a situation which she described as an insane asylum with [participant] hallucinating and others shouting and dropping to the ground.

…Participants from the 2007 and 2008 sweat lodge have also reported that participants suffered physical distress. I 2007 two participants describe seeing people vomiting  and at least one person who was unconscious. In 2008, participants describe a scene that can only be described as foreshadowing events of 2009. Using terms like “carnage” “war zone” and “triage unit”, participants have told detectives participants were unconscious, vomiting and “out of their minds”. At least one participant indicated she thought she was going to die, another indicated that in addition to one person being unconscious, about 20 people were “sick, overheated and throwing up”.

The pattern of abuse is obvious. Ray was risking participants lives and wellbeing for financial gain. Ray and his staff managed to avoid being charged in connection with the death of Colleen Conaway two months earlier (by lying to police, and fabricating evidence). Then came the fatal sweat lodge where Ray managed to kill three more and put twenty in hospital (after which he calmly returned to his cabin for a shower. Police found him sitting in his underwear, eating a late lunch).

Ray is a menace to society. He has caused four deaths put 20 in hospital and financially ruined countless others. He even charged Colleen Conaway’s credit account after her death for future events she had booked. Poor Colleen, had she survived, would have attended the fatal sweat lodge event.

Ray lied to people about his experience and qualifications. He claimed to have been trained in Holotropic Breathwork by Stanislav Grof, which was a barefaced lie, as confirmed by Grof himself. He claimed to have spent three years in Peru as a student of a shamanic teacher. In reality he had only spent a couple of weeks there and the person he claimed was his teacher was in reality a tour guide who knew nothing about the “role” he had been playing in Ray’s professional career.

Ray claimed to be trained in traditional Lakota sweat lodges, a claim denied by Lakota spokespeople who in fact told him to stop. Prosecutors were investigating information suggesting Ray’s staff had since been trying to find a Lakota prepared to vouch for him. All these lies are not necessarily crimes, just lies told in order to increase profits and puff up Ray’s status as an authority, and to increase trust. Had people known the truth, they would have certainly been much more cautious about following the deadly instructions he gave before the sweat lodge. Indeed, had people known about Colleen Conaway’s death and the way Ray and his staff reacted to it, many would no doubt have not attended.

There is plenty more dirt like this on Ray, much of it just as sickening. But using the legal system to stop it is difficult. Laws which respect individual freedom can’t easily be framed to take this kind of cumulative low-level deception into account. And this is exactly what Ray’s legal team are banking on. They realized they haven’t got a chance defending him on factual grounds, so they changed tack and are attempting to have as much evidence as possible excluded on technical grounds.

Here is some of the evidence Ray’s attorneys have tried (with some success) to have excluded:

  • All mention of injury and death at other Ray events, including Colleen Conaway’s death and the ensuing cover up. (Successful – the prosecution decided themselves that the law was technically against using such background information to reveal the ongoing pattern of abuse.)
  • All mention of injuries, risks and negligent behavior on the part of Ray from earlier sweat lodge events (including a participant who suffered brain damage, countless who suffered seizure, vomiting and other forms of heat related medical distress, and the fact that Ray screamed at the resort owner for calling 911 to deal with an emergency and ordered his staff never to call 911). Successful again.
  • All mention of Ray’s behavior in the days before the sweat lodge (including the “God Game, where staff dressed up as angels of death, and Ray in a long robe played “God”, ordering people to die for any transgressions of the rules. This game went on for six hours. (This isn’t illegal, of course, just very revealing of his character, his obsession with death, and the role he wished to play in the lives (and deaths) of participants). Decision pending.
  • Ray’s actions and events immediately before the sweat lodge (including sending participants into the desert without food or water for 36 hours, so they returned weakened and dehydrated. And the infamous meeting immediately before the sweat lodge, where he told participants the purpose of the lodge was to make them leave their body “you will have to separate your mind from your body to survive this…You will feel like you are going to die…You will not die. Should you pass out, you will be taken care of”; as well all his claims of training and experience in sweat lodges.) Decision pending.
  • Ray’s actions immediately after the sweat lodge (including dozens of people in extreme medical distress, vomiting, having seizures, several receiving CPR, while James got hosed down and sat in the shade, observing the carnage. Then he left to have a shower. Eventually a police officer found him in his cabin, sitting in his underwear munching on a sandwich. His “Director of Operations” Megan Fredrickson (instrumental in covering up Colleen Conaway’s death) was hiding in a gift shop on the property. She had all the personal details of participants. Liz Neuman had been airlifted to hospital in a critical condition but had to be admitted as “Jane Doe”. Her family eventually found out through media reports where she was, and couldn’t see her before she eventually fell into a coma from which she never returned. In full knowledge that two people had already been pronounced dead, a “Jane Doe” was in a critical condition and 20 odd others were in hospital, Ray sent out an email to his mailing list, declaring the event a “success”, despite some participants having “taken ill”. Of course, those are the kinds of details which defense lawyers would prefer jurors not hear, and although they clearly show Ray’s malignant character and breathtaking indifference to the fate (to say nothing of safety or well being) of his paying customers.) Decision pending.
  • Audio recordings of the above mentioned meeting immediately prior to the sweat lodge. These were not on the JRI premises at the time the search warrant was enacted (and probably would have been destroyed on Megan Fredrickson’s orders if they had been). Decision: Judge Darrow ordered audio for the entire event be handed over. Ray’s financial practices should be excluded. The prosecution gathered evidence that Ray had a financial motivation for running extreme and dangerous groups, and didn’t provide participants of adequate warning of the possible dangers. Ray uses high pressure manipulative tactics to get people to book groups in advance on their credit card, and then sends them the waiver only after the “refund window” has “closed”. Decision: prosecutors are only allowed to disclose the cost and conditions surrounding the sweat lodge event.
  • Attempting to get expert witness Rick Ross excluded from giving evidence on the manipulative and coercive practices which Ray learned and implemented during the event. (Here is a summary of some of the evidence he would provide.)
  • Also trying to get the trial moved out of Yavapai County the grounds that everyone there thinks he’s an asshole. Duh. James Ray has acted like a malicious criminal ever since the first of the deaths he caused, using his twitter account to tweet inane nonsense in a manner deeply offensive to the bereaved, and continued to groom new followers for his scam. He has shown no remorse, offered spin instead of feeling, played himself as a victim.

That is basically the core of James Ray’s legal defense. His attorney’s obviously think he’s guilty, otherwise they would be contesting the facts rather than wriggling through technical loopholes.

Strategy No. 2: Blame participants for trusting Ray

Evidence concerning Ray’s actions during the sweat lodge will be heard in court. That will be the toughest one for them to deal with, and will consist of pretty much the whole case. The transcripts of witness interviews (one two three more here) read like a horror movie.

The defense will be arguing that participants:

  • should not have believed Ray’s assurances they were safe
  • should have ignored Ray’s instructions
  • should not have believed Ray’s claims that he was leading them in a “sacred ceremony which needs to be respected”
  • should have ignored Ray’s description of the entire purpose of the sweat lodge
  • should not have respected the traditions he claimed to be representing with his repeated cries of “sacrilege” to transgressions of protocol even when they involved lifesaving actions
  • should not have believed Ray’s claims of spiritual authority
  • instead they should have seen him as more like a “sports coach” – albeit a sports coach who lied about his qualifications and who didn’t feel himself in the least bit responsible for them should they die trying to follow his instructions

In short, the defense has correctly judged Ray as being unfit to conduct the program he was leading. They will be arguing that the participants were at fault for failing to recognize this in a timely fashion and saving Ray all the inconvenience caused by their deaths.

If you think I’m exaggerating, just watch the trial.

If Ray does finish up getting off these charges, he will be crowing about having been vindicated by the court. As his own defense demonstrates, that would not be the case.All the defense has done is lay bare the difficulties of the legal system to deal with people who make their living operating in the gray zone where the letter of the law can be used as protection from the spirit of the law.

I would also add that he is guilty of one count of negligent homicide, for the death of Colleen Conaway, with other charges relating to misleading police and fabricating evidence.


  1. […] Feb 7 2011 Here’s my take on Ray’s overall defense strategy. […]

  2. Excellent summary!!

  3. […] is No Excuse « James Ray Trial – Ray’s Defense: Nothing But Objections James Ray Trial Updates March 7, […]

  4. It does not appear that the author of this post has the legal background and training to make such declaratory legal conclusions. The majority of the objections are valid, based on the rules of evidence, and the defense team is only upholding its legal duty and professional responsibility by presenting the best possible defense, and leaving the State to meet ITS burden, and prove their theory beyond a reasonable doubt. If a judge excludes evidence based on established rules, why do you hold that against the defense team? Why not agaisnt the prosecution for trying to use evidence prohibited by the Rules?

  5. It does not appear that the poster of the above comment has bothered to read the article beyond the title, and has not even attempted to address any of the points I made.

    Please point out where exactly I faulted the judge for excluding any of the evidence. Please point out where I blamed the defense team for pulling these ruses. Please point out where I said that the burden of proof should be on the defense, or that James Ray does not deserve a fair trial.

    If you read the article, you’ll realize it’s not really about the trial at all. It’s about what actually happened, and considers WHY the defense is trying to get it excluded from the trial.

    The whole point of the article is to look at the factual evidence which the jury will not be allowed to use in reaching a verdict about Ray. Should they eventually reach a verdict of not guilty, I have no doubt that Ray apologists like the above commenter will be crowing that Ray has been vindicated.

    If found not guilty, or if a mistrial is declared, he will not have been vindicated at all, for the reasons stated in the article.

    As I say in the article, Ray is a menace to society, and I provide a long list of reasons why I think that. His supporters, like the commenter above, have nothing to say about any of that — apart, of course, from the same weak sophistry that the defense has attempted: Free choice; they signed a waiver (as if you can circumvent the entire legal system by signing a waiver); toxins (utterly irrelevant as Ray ignored pleas for help and left people to die without ever checking on them, regardless of whether it was from heat stroke or poison); and blame helpers and even participants themselves for not saving more lives.

    In fact, Ray could easily be facing six or more manslaughter charges were it not for those whom his defense team are trying, by implication, to hold responsible. Has Ray ever thanked those people?

    Even the defense were initially saying “Had he heard cries for help he would have stopped the ceremony” (see the White Paper). Exactly – I agree completely with the defense’s estimation that any reasonable person would have done so.

    But the defense is not arguing that anymore, are they. Because they know that by that standard — their own standard — Ray would be found guilty as charged.

Comments welcome, but please try to address the issues raised in the article!

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