Information Pack for Journalists: James Ray’s 26 Favorite Excuses

April 25, 2016

Journalists are often confused by the James Ray “sweat lodge deaths” case. This doesn’t surprise me so much — the case is harder to believe than it is to understand. 

Ray, a failed self-help teacher, cooked three people to death in a bogus sweat lodge. He was trying to merely cook them to within an inch of their lives — hoping to induce the onset of heat stroke with its hallucinatory mental state which might equate with a “spiritual experience”. He went too far and left three people dead. He was later charged with three counts of manslaughter. The jury, missing a great deal of shocking and damning evidence, generously decided to convict him of the lesser charge of homicide. 

He did not care about the dangers and did not stop the ceremony despite people screaming that they were having a heart attack, or telling him that people had stopped breathing. People could not leave because the sides of the tent were secured, it was pitch black and impossibly cramped, there was a pit of burning hot rocks preventing people from moving in the dark, and Ray controlled the only exit.

ray guilty

Ray reacts to being found guilty of 3 counts of homicide (screenshot, CNN)

The thing that always confuses journalists is How the hell could anyone be so stupid as to risk killing their own customers? Surely that can’t be what happened.

Well, that is in fact exactly what he did — difficult to believe, let alone to communicate briefly to an audience. Ray’s version — one in which he is an innocent bystander bravely copping an unfair rap — is by far the easier one for a weary or lazy journalist. Journalists who glibly report Ray’s version as fact are stupidly overturning the court’s verdict: a grace that is rarely granted to convicted killers. But you know, Ray is famous so who cares what the victims’ families think?

As covered in the previous posts, journalists want an easy life, and Ray has good media connections — CNN still loves him, so if they help him kick start his career again, he’ll owe them. That’s why they refuse to interview the families of his victims, and won’t question his highly absurd account of his role in four deaths and eventual criminal conviction. All they want to show is the two faces of Ray: the leering, superficial smile (of the classical psychopath), and the sad faced “poor me” victim pose (of the classical psychopath).

….So, to make it easier for journalists to present him as the victim, here’s my fantastic list of–

Ray’s Top 26 Excuses For Why He should Not Have Been Convicted

Selected from 7 years of lies and distortions by Ray and his legal team

And here they are….in order of appearance…..

Excuse 1: “The event was a success, despite some people having taken ill”

Reality: This was Ray’s email to his mailing list a few hours after the event. Two of his customers had already died in front of him, and two dozen more had been rushed to hospital, some not expected to survive the night. At that point, Ray was still betting on being able to hush it all up, like he did Colleen Conaway’s death two months earlier. He had already contacted his lawyers.

Excuse 2: “It was Ted” (Ray to Sgt. Barbaro, when asked who was in charge of the sweat lodge)

Reality: Ted is a local who was roped in to Ray’s event to be fire keeper for Ray’s bogus sweat lodge. He ultimately saved lives by pulling unconscious people out of the heat tent and performing CPR, while Ray went back to his cabin to have a shower. When Sgt Barbaro of the Yavapai Police eventually found him, Ray claimed it was “Ted” who had been leading the sweat lodge, not him. It was one of Ray’s less intelligent and less successful lies. It eventually formed part of his fulfillment of the manslaughter statute: mens rea — consciousness of guilt.

ted m 2Ted M., fire keeper and impromptu saver of lives, gives testimony at Ray’s trial. Ray lied to police that “It was Ted” who was in charge of the deadly sweat lodge. (Screenshot from CNN)

Sgt Barbaro also noted in his report:

“James [Ray]… was up at the main building eating dinner. I thought this was interesting since EMS was airlifting and transporting [seriously injured] subjects at this time.”

Excuse 3: “If I had heard any cries of distress I would have stopped the sweat lodge immediately”

Reality: First, it was not a sweat lodge, but a fake sweat lodge (and he lied about being trained by Lakota people). Second, his defense lawyers used this excuse initially, and then dropped it as soon as they saw the witness statements, with multiple eye witnesses saying they heard Ray respond to cries of distress by saying he would “deal with her later” (victim Kirby Brown) and, “Not breathing? Leave her, she knows what she’s doing” (victim Liz Neuman). Ray is using this excuse again, but even his own defense lawyers thought it was too big a lie to try out in court.

Excuse 4: “The participants were free to leave”

Reality: It is true that participants could leave between rounds when the flap was open, but it is impossible to leave when unconscious, and all had been instructed to go over their personal boundaries and to trust that Ray and his staff would keep them safe. Ray explicitly instructed them to ignore the warning symptoms for the onset of heat stroke: delusional thinking and loss of consciousness.

Excuse 5: “Holding a sweat lodge, by itself, is not a criminally negligent act” (Defense lawyers, Dec 1 2009)

Reality: It is true, as Ray’s $5 million lawyers pointed out in their letter to prosecutors, that people have died from hyperthermia in sweat lodges before, and this has never before been prosecuted. They didn’t use this line of argument in the trial though, because there had already been life threatening incidents in Ray’s previous lodges — so clearly Ray knew he was taking risks with other people’s lives.

Excuse 6: “Ray conducted numerous other sweat lodges at this location without serious incident.” (Defense lawyers, Dec 1 2009)

Reality: This is the classical “tragic accident” argument. Ray’s lawyers initially used this approach but swiftly dropped it once details of life threatening incidents in previous sweat lodges started appearing in the records of the police investigation. Far from using this argument in court, Ray’s legal team pulled every trick in the book to get any mention of previous sweat lodges excluded from ever being mentioned. Had the jury known of these incidents, a conviction on manslaughter charges instead of the lesser homicide, would have been more likely.

Excuse 7: “Ray could not have foreseen sweat lodge consequences even remotely close to what occurred here.” (Defense lawyers, Dec 1 2009)

Reality: Ray had explicitly instructed participants that the symptoms of the onset of heatstroke — altered mental status, vomiting, loss of consciousness — were normal and to be expected. And also, “You will feel like your skin is being burned off.” He assured particpants the would be cared for by his staff, should they lose consciousness. He also lied about his training in sweat lodges, and lied that he was running a traditional Lakota Sweat Lodge. 

Excuse 8: Participants signed a waiver saying they understood that the event could “lead to serious injury, including death” (Defense lawyers, Dec 1 2009)

Reality: It is indeed true true that they signed a waiver. But most waivers are for things like, if you trip on the stairs or get bitten by a snake you won’t sue the event leader. It doesn’t cover manslaughter or homicide. Ray’s waiver would have needed to have said something like:

I, ______________ understand that Mr Ray will try to cook me to within an inch of my life, may lie to me about his qualifications, training, and experience; may lie to me about the risks, may not monitor anyone’s safety, may not call emergency services despite having a cell phone right there. I understand I might need to save the lives of other participants because Mr Ray does not feel responsible for the event. I understand that the money I paid Ray may be used to hire private investigators to pursue me, and expensive lawyers to attack and humiliate me in court if he winds up on manslaughter charges. Signed _________________.

Excuse 9: The deaths were caused by organophosphate poisoning not heat stroke.

Reality: No evidence for this whatsoever, but the defense spent several months ranting about it every day.

Excuse 10: The deaths were caused by rat poison not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 11: The deaths were caused by ant poison not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 12: The deaths were caused by weed killer not heat stroke.
Reality: See above
Excuse 13: The deaths were caused by tainted water not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 14: The deaths were caused by tainted fruit not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 15: The deaths were caused by fruit with flies on it not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 16: The deaths were caused by soil with pesticides not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 17: The deaths were caused by the tarps not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 18: The deaths were caused by the wood not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 19: The deaths were caused by the wrong wood not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 20: The deaths were caused by the wood with nails not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 21: The deaths were caused by the wood without nails not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 22: The deaths were caused by treated wood not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 23: The deaths were caused by pressure treated wood not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.
Excuse 24: The deaths were caused by wood sealer not heat stroke.
Reality: See above.

The jury didn’t buy any of this — not even for a minute, but the court of public opinion is far more lenient. I predict that soon Ray will be saying: “And you know what? In fact the doctors couldn’t even determine the cause of death. It might have been — .”

Excuse 25: “I saw myself like a trainer, training people for a marathon: it was an endurance event.”

Reality: Not a bad try, this one. This is at least something what participants were expecting from him. But, if a marathon trainer had three people die and two dozen hospitalized in the same event, he would expect to face a serious criminal investigation, and would be expected to appear remorseful. And if it turned out that his clients had not been told that they were about to run a marathon, had been deliberately exhausted and deprived of food and water for the preceding 36 hours, it would look worse. And if he had instructed them to ignore physical warning signs, and assured them that they would be monitored by his staff — and they were in fact not safe, and were not monitored, it would look worse still. And if he had informed them that he had run marathons before himself — but hadn’t; and had told them he had trained with experts– but hadn’t; and if he had told them it was a normal event and many people do this all the time — and it wasn’t; then he would expect to face prosecution.

Excuse 26: There was a doctor “sitting right next to” people who died, but did nothing to save them.

Reality: This a new one, introduced in 2016. There was in fact “a doctor” present, but this doctor was a paying participant who happened to be a doctor. He was just as physically incapacitated, and just as powerless to stop Ray from causing the deaths as everyone else. 

The only person Ray has never nabbed as the culprit is himself.

Participant James Shore, after having saved several lives, died trying to save another. Luckily for Ray, participants realized that Ray was not in control of the of the situation and despite suffering from the onset of heat stroke, managed to rescue other people. There could have been half a dozen deaths, otherwise. They saved each other, and they saved Ray from facing extra manslaughter charges and extra years in jail.

He showed his gratitude by fighting them in court, where he got his $5 million lawyers to try to humiliate and degrade them and their testimony. The media built this monster by giving him a free platform to present his “teachings” about taking full personal responsibility and magically getting rich. Now that he has caused three deaths (and been involved in a fourth), and ruined himself financially, journalists need to start doing their job instead of betraying their audience and allowing themselves to be duped again.

Posted by Yakaru


  1. I should note that Excuses 7 to 22 were cataloged State Prosecutor Sheila Polk in her closing statement–

  2. Reblogged this on theoreticalgrrrl and commented:
    The Self-Help/New Age industry is completely unregulated. Any jerk/sociopath can claim to be an “expert”:

  3. Yep- invent your own teachings (or own packaging for stolen teachings) and instantly become a “leading expert”.

    Thanks for reblogging!

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