James Ray Trial Updates: Final Phase

June 7, 2011

See previous trial updates here.

There is excellent detailed coverage of the James Ray trial in Celestial Reflections blog (daily updates) and Salty Droid. I haven’t attempted to duplicate that here, but have been indicating a few of the salient points to come up on particular days and link to more detailed material.

Scroll down for earliest entries.


Further updates here.

June 21 Salty Droid has edited a video of defense attorney Luis Li’s closing statement. For a sympathetic view of Li’s argument, see this post from CNN’s In Session. They saw it as “one of the most impassioned closing arguments you are ever likely to hear”. It lasted more than 7 hours, and parts of it were indeed impassioned, especially the bits about his father, his mountain climbing experiences, the birth of his first son (which was the best day of his life)….The only thing Li did not mention was why the hell his client acted the way he did. The central strategy from the defense during the entire process has been to attempt to hide as many details of Ray’s behavior before, during and after his deadly fake sweat lodge. The strongest parts of Li’s argument are that Ray did not think people would die, and that participants were “free to leave at any time”.

For a more balanced account of Li’s closing statement than In Session’s breathless fawning one, see the video below, and read LaVaughn’s three posts on it (one, two, three). Much of the media coverage of this trial has been skewed in favor of Ray, and/or limited to reporting when someone in the courtroom cries. LaVaughn has covered it way better than any professional news source, in far greater detail, and despite having a clearly stated set of judgments as to Ray’s guilt, her analyses have been far more astute than any of the journalists present at the trial. Salty Droid’s coverage is of a somewhat different nature, being more focused on his up to the moment tweets and video highlights. The video below gives a fair impression of the degree of lunacy that the defense has been pushed by the absence of any plausible explanations for Ray’s behavior, other than that he is culpable and guilty as charged.

State prosecutor Sheila Polk will make a rebuttal before the the jury retires. (Her closing statement was last week, see below.)


June 17 State prosecutor Sheila Polk made the closing statement earlier in the week. Salty Droid has edited a video of the main points of Ms Polk’s statement. 

Defense Attorney Luis Li then babbled for hours and hours and hours over two days. Part of the strategy was clearly to bore the jury into not paying attention, in the hope that they would not realize how much he is distorting and misrepresenting the evidence, and to give the impression that James Ray was actually defended.

The strongest aspect of Li’s argument was the “free will” gambit, that Ray didn’t physically prevent anyone from leaving, therefore the victims were all responsible for their own fate. Further, that Ray had no reason to expect that anyone would die, and didn’t know there was any problem until it was too late.

Those arguments should really have formed the entire basis of the defense, and I suspect that in effect that is really the line they have been banking on. All this toxins lunacy was really done to put pressure on the state and bury them under an avalanche of paperwork (and then wait for them to make an error); and to eat up so much time that it would direct attention away from the facts of what happened.

Ms Polk will get time of a rebuttal on Tuesday, and then the jury will withdraw, to decide on 3 counts of reckless manslaughter, with the possibility of convicting Ray on lesser charges of negligent homicide.

See of course, LaVaughn’s in depth analyses, much more detailed and insightful than anything in the news media.

June 14 Here is an extract from a document from the prosecutors. It sums up exactly why the defense has been wasting everybody’s time with all its blithering about mystery toxins.

…In addition, Dr Paul testified whatever toxin might have been in the sweat lodge would not have been airborne, but would have had direct contact with the skin or the faces of the participants as his explanation as to why all of the participants had not suffered distress. This testimony eliminates any claim that treated wood or something on the rocks might have been a source of a toxin, since the wood was never in the sweat lodge and the only participant to come into contact with the rocks was Lou Caci who suffered burns, not toxic poisoning. This leaves the dirt and the coverings as possible sources for the unidentified toxins, Mr Mercer testified he saw rat poison poison stored with the coverings; however, Dr Dickson testified that rat poisons would not cause the symptoms experienced by the victims. Essentially the dirt remains as a possible source. Dawn Gordon testified she remained close to the ground to escape the heat and that she was right next to Kirby Brown and James Shore and was fine…. (p.7)

June 12 …..And now with the defense on only its second witness, they have suddenly stopped.

One week earlier they needed more than 200 pages to explain all the reasons why the state has failed to present an adequate case, now they have nothing more to bring in defense of their client.

Their first witness was Dawn Sy who was bumped from the state’s witness list due to time constraints. The defense basically called her to suggest that the state had dropped her for dishonest reasons, and possibly because also because Do had prepared some questions for cross examination anyway, and they needed pad their defense out a bit. 

The second was the forensic doctor Ian Paul, who the defense have been referring to throughout the trial. He is the defense’s hero, who supposedly looked at the evidence and decided that the medical examiners had erred in assuming that the people who Ray cooked to death died of heat stroke. In order to prevent an injustice, he claims, he approached the defense and offered his services. The fact that he is attempting to kick start his career as a “forensic consultant has nothing to do with it. (H/T Jeanne.)

Dr Paul’s testimony sounded scripted, and during the cross examination he frequently shot involuntary glances at the defense table. LaVaughn makes some humorous observations about the use of visual props — the enormous chart that Paul provided for the jury was so big that he seemed to be hiding behind it while giving testimony.

Dr Paul (Screenshot by LaVaughn)

Many of the symptoms that the victims presented with are, DrPaul claims, more indicative of organo-phosphate poisoning than heat stroke. Unfortunately for the defense, huge problems with this argument have already emerged during the trial. It is apparent that the property owners didn’t use any organo-phosphates at that time, and there is absolutely no evidence to indicate their presence in the sweat lodge. Further, immensely vast quantities would be required in order to be fatal.

Further still, the symptoms people were displaying after Ray’s death lodge are not more indicative of poisoning. And, if it needed to be made any clearer, if those who required treatment had indeed been suffering the effects of organo-phosphate poisoning, the procedures for heat stroke the emergency responders followed, would have instantly killed them all. (Due to failure to empty the lungs of excessive salivation.)

The most probable reason for the abrupt end to the defense is, apart from there being no actual defense for Ray’s actions and inactions, is to try and preempt the state from recalling witnesses and dredging up all those uncomfortable facts again. The state is apparently going to recall a few witnesses, including Dr Dickson who did such a demolition job on the defense.

It has been clear for ages that Ray will not testify. (Pre-trial, during jury selection, the defense wanted the court to make it clear to the jury that a defendant has the constitutional right not testify.) A man who became a millionaire through his ability to make people believe what he is saying, now has nothing to say in his own defense. Nor should he need to of course, legally speaking. The point I am making is about the gulf between the promises and persona of the “motivational speaker”, and the actual truth of his product and his character.

Even more telling in this regard is the defense’s supposed shock at the judge’s finding that Ray had a legal responsibility to his clients. Ray took $10,000 from each participant with the promise he could help them transform every aspect of their lives. Now in court his defense is stunned that he was expected to do anything in order to prevent their deaths.

Looking at Death Ray’s actions before during and after the lodge, he never felt himself even legally compelled to care for anyone, and the fully deserved charges must have come as a monumental shock.

It should be noted at this point that at least three or four more people would have died had participants not acted to save them. Ray could easily be sitting there facing six or seven manslaughter charges. Instead a large part of his defense has been to attack an employee (Melinda Martin) who did what she could to save lives, and stooped even further, attacking participants themselves for not doing enough to save other participants. Had James Shore survived, he would have been attacked for only saving one life and failing to save the other.

Closing statements are expected to start on Tuesday, depending on the state recalling witnesses.

The video in the entry below for June 7 contains statements (in the absence of the jury) relating to the defense’s failed acquittal motion. It gives a preview of some of the content which will likely be presented by state prosecutor Sheila Polk in her closing statement for the prosecution, and a brief glimpse of the antics of defense lawyer Luis Li. If it seems to be edited to make Li look like he was babbling incoherently, I would argue that the removal of context actually flatters his performance.

June 7 After the prosecution closed its case last week, the defense filed a motion for acquittal. The state filed a reply, and Judge Darrow ruled against the motion. That means the trial continues. The defense’s motion and the state’s response are a good summing up of the way the trial has gone to date. The defense takes up 200 pages of convoluted legal technicalities and absurd notions about mysterious poisoning. The state’s reply is packed with factual evidence corroborated by multiple witnesses and devastatingly straight forward expert testimony from Dr Dickson about the obvious cause of death.

Salty Droid has edited and uploaded a video of the acquittal hearing


It it includes the state’s recounting of its completely and utterly damning case against James Ray; a mercifully shortened version of Mr Li’s awful and pathetic defense statement; and Judge Darrow’s reasoning behind his decision to reject the defense’s motion for acquittal. In a way, this short video sums up the entire case – the state arguing factually and reasonably, the defense waving its arms around and babbling rhetorically.

LaVaughn has the full text of Darrow’s decision, (as well as the most thorough account of the entire trial, day by day).



  1. […] June 6 Defense’s motion for acquittal denied. This post is getting too long, so it is continued here. […]

  2. People are accountable for their own actions even when the consequences are sad. You can say these individuals were brainwashed and not in their right mind due to exhaustion, lack of food , etc. however it is an insult to their memories to acknowledge what bright talented and gifted individuals they all were and then determine in the last moments they lost who they were and became puppets.

    Also, in another scenario in which an individual CHOOSES to get behind the wheel of a car and knows they are compromised from sleep deprivation and ends up hurting someone WILL be charged for a crime. And you know the prosecution will claim they are accountable for their own actions. In fact, show me a case where prosecutors ever say defendants are not accountable for their decisions?

    I am NOT a supporter of James Ray. I do however support the true memories of the lives lost in this horrible accident. And they were not puppets on strings, easily manipulated, they were each caring and talented and with very much the will to control their own destiny in every moment of their life.

    Let’s not disrespect them in their last moments of life by saying that they were not the strong and visionary people we knew them to be….

  3. Laura, who exactly are you addressing that comment to?

    I have never implied that the participants were “puppets”. The prosecution has gone to great lengths to make it clear that they are not implying that either.

    The defense, on the other hand, has — just like you — rested a large part of its case on exactly that premise.

    They have argued that for James Ray to be found guilty, then the victims can only have been his puppets. Then they have argued — just like you — that the victims were rational people who were not puppets, therefore James Ray cannot be held responsible for their deaths.

    And that is a pathetic and desperate attempt at obscuring the facts. As is clear from Dr Dickson’s testimony, the onset of heat stroke is marked by a change in mental status: impaired judgment, and loss of consciousness. (As well as all the other symptoms which Ray told people to expect, and promised were safe and normal.) That has nothing to do with being a puppet, and everything to do with a dangerous medical condition that Ray deliberately set out to induce.

    Ray got them to agree to do it by lying to them. That also has nothing to do with being a puppet. It has been the defense who have been attempting to portray the victims as responsible for their own deception and exploitation.

  4. James Ray is another ego ridden pseudo Guru who thinks nothing of destroying the very people who’s blood he sucks. Personally I hope he gets a LONG prison sentence, even though the state slightly over charged the case. I only say this because I think his indefensible actions do not rise to the level of premeditated murder. Reckless homicide… definitely.

  5. The manslaughter charges were certainly a bit unexpected initially, and maybe the state was positioning themselves for settling on lesser charges. Not being a lawyer and knowing nothing at all about the US legal system, I have no idea.

    Personally I think the charges are perfectly justified, given the multiple warnings Ray had. Sheila Polk told the court (with the jury absent) that it was not only Ray’s behavior during the lodge that inspired them to bring charges, but his previous actions, including the death of Colleen Conaway and the way Ray and his staff covered it up.

    Given that Ray caused four deaths, and how close he came to causing several more, I think he should consider himself lucky to be only facing three charges.

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