Sun, Dec. 08

Ray sentencing proceedings begin Tuesday

James Ray

James Ray

PRESCOTT - More than four months after his conviction on three counts of negligent homicide, motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray is due back in court Tuesday for the beginning of two weeks of hearings ultimately resulting in his sentencing.

Three people, Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, died from heat-related injuries they suffered during a Ray-led sweat lodge ceremony in October 2009. The ceremony was the crowning event of his Spiritual Warrior seminar at the Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center near Sedona.

The jury's decision that Ray caused extreme emotional harm to the victims of the families aggravated Ray's possible sentence. He faces as long as nine years in prison, although probation is also an option for Judge Warren Darrow when he imposes Ray's sentence on Friday, Nov. 18.

Ray told the 50-plus participants in his ceremony, which he had conducted annually since 2003, that they would feel like they were going to die in the intense heat of the tightly covered tent. But even those most critical of the once-thriving spiritual leader admit that the talk of death was metaphorical.

Yavapai County Sheila Polk has indicted she will seek the maximum allowable prison term for Ray, despite the fact that he has no prior convictions and did not intend for anyone to die. She will also ask that Ray pay as much as $135,000 in restitution and court costs.

Polk plans to call eight witnesses during this week's hearings, including Kirby Brown's mother and YCSO Detective Ross Diskin, who was the lead investigator on the case. Eleven others with interest in the case have expressed a desire to address the court on the day of sentencing.

The second week of the proceedings will offer Ray's defense team, including Prescott attorney Tom Kelly, an opportunity to argue for a term of probation.

In a September presentence report, Ray expressed extreme remorse to probation officer Michael Rygiel. He also told Rygiel he accepted a level of responsibility for the deaths.

"Yes, I have some responsibility," he is quoted as saying. "I ran the lodge, it was my event."

And while Rygiel wrote that Ray's actions in the case appear "reckless, dangerous and negligent," Ray said at the time he hopes to be placed on probation in order to "try and rebuild my life."

Numerous delays have pushed the proceedings back from the normal 60-day post-conviction limit for sentencing. Ray's conviction and aggravation hearings were complete on June 30, and sentencing was originally set for July 25.

But Darrow's consideration of a defense motion for a new trial was not complete until Sept. 14, and an attorney's illness and subsequent scheduling conflicts delayed the matter until now.

Ray has been free on $525,000 bond since shortly after his February 2010 indictment and arrest.

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