State witnesses criticize guru Ray

The Arizona Republic/November 9, 2011

Prescott, Arizona -- Prosecutors in the sweat-lodge trial of James Arthur Ray used volunteers from the self-help teacher's events to paint a picture of him as lacking remorse, as untrustworthy and as a continuing danger to people seeking help, during the first of six days of hearings before his sentencing.

Kristina Bivins, the first witness called Tuesday, had continued to support Ray strongly even after being hospitalized following the sweat-lodge ceremony near Sedona at which three other participants died in October 2009. Ray, who led the ceremony as part of a five-day workshop, was convicted in June on three counts of negligent homicide for those deaths.

Over a steady stream of defense objections, Bivins testified that in 2010 she had helped Ray set up a new business named Life Results, believing he would use it to square things as best he could with the families of the victims and with people who had prepaid a total of $2 million to attend events canceled after the sweat-lodge deaths.

"At first, I thought he was going to make things right; then as the summer went on I realized it was just about making money," Bivins said, adding that she now regrets having supported him for so long.

She tearfully told the court that she had long repressed memories of the sweat-lodge ceremony, until she came to rethink her faith in his teachings.

"He has lied about and continues to lie about his credentials," said Bivins, the chief executive of a San Francisco-based software company. She served as a volunteer at several Ray events, after paying more than $90,000 to attend his courses and join his inner circle, the World Wealth Society.

"Without knowing the truth about the teacher they're studying with, people can be led down a dangerous path, and clearly, a life-threatening path," she said.

Ray's defense team, meanwhile, used the prosecution witnesses to show him as a man who has suffered from losing his livelihood and his properties, including homes in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and Hawaii, and who now lives with his parents to take care of a mother suffering from thyroid cancer.

Attorney Luis Li used his questioning of Bivins to note that Ray paid "several millions of dollars" to settle civil claims by the families of Kirby Brown, 38, James Shore, 40, and Liz Neuman, 49, the three victims who died during or after the 2009 Sedona event.

Another former member of Ray's volunteer "Dream Team," Julia Bunker, testified about other Ray events at which people were injured – breaking their hands while trying to break cinder blocks, for example.

Bunker described taking part in a 2008 sweat-lodge ceremony at which people became sick because of the intense heat.

She said she was horrified but not surprised when she found out about the 2009 deaths.

"I thought to myself, 'James pushed it too far,' " she said.

Bivins was the first of eight prosecution witnesses to be called this week.

Ray's defense attorneys have listed 21 witnesses they plan to call next week to offer mitigating circumstances before Ray is sentenced on Nov. 18.

Ray's attorneys also filed new motions calling for a new trial and asking to set aside the portion of the current hearings dealing with potentially aggravating factors.

Ray faces up to nine years and nine months in prison, but he also could receive probation.

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