Ray sentencing hearings to begin next week
PRESCOTT - After an attorney's health emergency shattered the scheduling of James Arthur Ray's presentence hearings, Judge Warren Darrow decided to get the proceedings back on track beginning next week, despite a defense request for a longer delay.
Tom Kelly, Ray's local counsel, was treated over the weekend and on Monday for a heart condition.
And even though his co-counsel, Luis Li, argued that Kelly's presence in the courtroom for the presentence hearings was critical, Darrow recalled that, during the four months of Ray's trial that ended in a conviction on three counts of negligent homicide, at least three other highly qualified attorneys were in court.
"To say that Tom Kelly has to make all the decisions," Darrow said during a telephonic scheduling hearing Tuesday, "is just too much."
The hearings will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, and continue through Friday, Sept. 30, resuming the following Tuesday, Oct. 4, and continuing through Thursday, Oct. 6, with sentencing taking place on that day.
Li said he thought Kelly would be medically cleared to return to work next week but could not be certain. His request for more time included a plea to allow Kelly time to recover fully and finish what he started.
That request prompted Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to remind the court of the significant date that would occur if the proceedings went on much longer: On Oct. 8, 2009, Ray led a sweat lodge ceremony at the Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center near Sedona that resulted in the heat-related deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman. Polk said Tuesday that many of the victims' family members were planning memorials to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the tragic event.
"It certainly is a worthwhile goal to accomplish the sentencing before that date," Polk said.
The state's latest filing in the case asks Darrow to impose the maximum allowable prison term - nine years - on Ray, and to ask for court costs and restitution as well.
Even though Ray is by statute eligible for probation, the state argued that three consecutive three-year terms, one for each victim, is appropriate and in accordance with Arizona policy.
"The focus is on the result of the act rather than the act itself," the motion reads. "Therefore, when a defendant's single act causes a separate criminal result to multiple victims... a defendant may be sentenced consecutively on each charge."
The motion also requests that Darrow order Ray to pay more than $67,000 in restitution to victims' family members for expenses, travel and lost wages during the trial, as well as nearly $68,000 in prosecution costs stemming primarily from witness travel costs and expenses.
Those expenses, the motion notes, do not include personnel and court costs for the proceedings.
Unless it is further revised, Ray's witness list includes as many as 19 people comprising family members, former employees and others.
Some of the potential witnesses are, like Ray, motivational speakers and authors. The defense contends, supported by dozens of letters from Ray proponents, that despite the tragedy, he is an asset to society, and probation is the most appropriate sentence.By Mark Duncan
PRESCOTT - In a presentence report first obtained by The Associated Press, James Arthur Ray expressed "extreme remorse" and asked that he receive probation in order to "try to rebuild my life."
Ray, 53, faces as long as nine years in prison after being convicted in late June on three counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, whose heat-related deaths resulted from a Ray-led October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona.
"Yes, I have some responsibility; I ran the lodge, it was my event," Ray is quoted in the report as saying. He added, "I will never again do a sweat lodge or any other dangerous activity."
As to remorse, Ray told his interviewer: "I am so sorry for the victims and everyone involved in this case. I would love to speak to the victims personally and express how sorry I am."
Ray asked that, if he receives a term of probation when Judge Warren Darrow sentences him, he be allowed to serve it in California. He currently owns a home in West Beverly Hills, but stated he recently has received foreclosure notices.
Ray closed his business, James Ray International, within months of the sweat lodge tragedy and told the interviewer he has been unable to pay his mortgage or his attorney fees.
Family members of the victims contacted by the probation department responded that they would prefer that Ray receive a prison term, a sentiment echoed by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and the probation officer himself, who stated in his report that "he does need to be held responsible for the deaths of three individuals."
Darrow has scheduled Ray's sentencing for Oct. 6, after several days of presentence hearings that are to begin Wednesday, Sept. 28. By law, he will consider the presentence report, as well as witness testimony during the hearings and letters he has received from Ray detractors and supporters.