SWEAT LODGE TRIAL: Jury instruction debate delays closing arguments

James Arthur Ray has pleaded not guilty to causing the October 2009 deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman.

James Arthur Ray has pleaded not guilty to causing the October 2009 deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman.

CAMP VERDE - Extended arguments over the details of jury instructions point out the unique nature of the manslaughter trial of James Arthur Ray, who has pleaded not guilty to causing the October 2009 deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman.

The final version of the instructions to jurors as to how they are to apply and interpret volumes of evidence is the remaining element to be completed before closing arguments begin, possibly as early as this morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, lawyers for the state and defense continued where they left off Friday, arguing fine points of language and law as they pertain to a case grown notorious for its complexity and unpredictability.

"I've spent most of my time (since Friday) trying to research law for a case for which there is no similar case," Judge Warren Darrow said Tuesday, kicking off a discussion that included disagreements over the definitions of terms such as conduct, knowingly, intentionally and recklessness.

Both sides need to have a clear grasp of how the jury will be told to interpret those terms so they can frame their closing arguments accordingly. Both also need to know what points of law they will be allowed to argue.

An example arose in the issue of motive, toward which prosecutor Bill Hughes requested a jury instruction that attributed one to Ray.

"The defendant's motive in running this sweat lodge was to take people to this altered mental state (which occurs at the point that simple heat exhaustion becomes life-threatening heatstroke)," Hughes said.

Defense attorney Tom Kelly took umbrage, stating, "A person who is running a business simply cannot have as his motive bringing his clients to the brink of death."

The jury's option to consider returning a verdict on the lesser-included charge of negligent homicide will also be a part of the instructions, and Darrow allowed he would consider Hughes' motive argument in that light.

Darrow rejected a defense suggestion for an instruction that would tell the jury to consider as a superseding intervening factor the notion that the victims had free will and could have left the sweat lodge at any time. He said that issue was a matter for argument during the parties' closings.

The issue of Ray owing a duty of protection to his clients arose late in the day, just as it has become a contended point late in the proceedings. Since last week, the state has changed its theory, in at least one respect, about why Ray is guilty. Where once they insisted it was his overt acts, such as somehow convincing the sweat lodge participants to trust his judgment of their safety rather than their own, that proved his guilt, it is now their position that by not acting when he knew people were in distress, he omitted his legal duty to them.

Kelly said that if the defense had known that the duty to the victims would be attributed to Ray and not to his corporation, James Ray International, they would have constructed their case differently.

Darrow still has several aspects of the instructions to decide on, and said he will allow both sides to make all their points before moving on to closing statements.

"We've had a trial that's gone on for months and months, and the jury instructions are extremely important," he said. "I'm not going to rush them."

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