Guru to be sentenced over Arizona sweat lodge deaths

PRESCOTT, Ariz Fri Nov 18, 2011 9:39am EST

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PRESCOTT, Ariz (Reuters) - A self-help guru convicted of the deaths of three people following a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona two years ago faces up to 11 years in jail at sentencing on Friday.

A Yavapai County Superior Court jury in June found James Ray guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of James Shore, Liz Neuman and Kirby Brown, who attended a personal growth seminar he led near Sedona, Arizona, in October 2009.

Negligent homicide is a class four felony. Ray faces a sentence ranging from possible probation to a jail term of between one and 3.75 years on each count, to run consecutively or concurrently.

Since his conviction, Ray has remained free on bond pending sentencing, which is due to begin Friday at 9 a.m. local time before Judge Warren R. Darrow.

The dead were among 56 participants who stumped up nearly $10,000 each to take part in Ray's "spiritual warrior" retreat, and were crammed into a four-foot tall sweat lodge, packed with superheated rocks, at the ceremony.

Shore, 40, and Brown, 38, were pronounced dead at the scene, while Neuman, 49, died several days later at a hospital in Flagstaff.

After weighing aggravating factors, the jury also found that Ray had caused emotional harm to the families of all three who died, and had violated a unique position of trust with Neuman.

The fatal sweat lodge ceremony cut short Ray's dazzling rise in the personal development industry, peddling a "harmonic wealth" philosophy which promised to "unlock the secret to true wealth and fulfillment" in clients' lives.

Career high points included appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN's Larry King Live, according to his website.

The day after the deaths, television news images of the sweat dome showed a low, windowless structure, covered in black roofing material, a far cry from the aura of glamour and wealth portrayed by the lucrative industry.

Sweat or medicine lodges -- smaller domed or oblong structures warmed with heated stones -- have traditionally been used in ceremonies by some Native American cultures.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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