U.S. News

Police arrest guru over Arizona "sweat dome" deaths

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Police arrested self-help guru James Arthur Ray on Wednesday for the manslaughter of three people who fell ill during a ceremony in a “sweat dome” at a retreat in northern Arizona last year.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said Ray was indicted on three counts of manslaughter relating to the deaths of James Shore, Liz Neuman and Kirby Brown on October 8 following the retreat near Sedona. His bond was set at $5 million.

More than 60 people were packed into the sweat dome at the Angel Valley Retreat Center for more than two hours taking part in a sauna-like cleansing ceremony when a number of them fell ill.

Twenty-one people were taken for treatment to nearby hospitals, where Shore, 40, and Brown, 38, were pronounced dead. Neuman, 49, died several days later in hospital.

The group was on a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” program hosted by Ray, a motivational speaker based in California.

His lawyer Luis Li said the charges were “unjust” and he was confident his client would be exonerated in court.

“This was a terrible accident -- but it was an accident, not a criminal act,” Li said

The sheriff’s office said participants had paid up to $9,000 to take part in the retreat involving the sweat dome, which was warmed by heated rocks brought inside.

Sedona, 117 miles north of Phoenix, is renowned for its red rocks, which some people believe have spiritual and restorative powers. The area is a popular destination for New Age retreats.

Television news images of the sweat dome showed a large, windowless circular structure, covered in a black roofing material.

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 Anthony Boadle