Sweat Lodge sentencing: Ray's brother is 'praying for probation'

The Daily Courier, Arizona/November 16, 2011

Prescott -- Though he at times had trouble getting the words out, John Ray said Wednesday he had no doubts about the character of his brother, James Arthur Ray.

"He's done so much for me," John said of James, who is four years older. "He's been my hero."

Testifying in the presentence hearing for James, who faces as long as nine years in prison, John described his brother as loving, caring, generous and a man of integrity.

James Ray was convicted in June on three counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, who perished after an October 2009 Ray-led sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona. The state has asked Judge Warren Darrow to impose the maximum prison term as well as restitution while the defense is seeking a term of probation.

Both men cried openly during the testimony, in which John Ray told the court that his brother has always worked hard, and that it was a great pleasure to see his ascent to fame in the self-help industry, which came after appearances in "The Secret" and on television, particularly on Oprah Winfrey's program.

"When I saw him on Oprah, I was jumping up and down and crying, I was so proud of him," John said.

Asked if the sudden celebrity status changed his brother, John said it did, "for the better. He was always generous but this afforded the opportunity to bring us all together more. He would fly my wife and me across the country just to spend some time with us."

But, close as they were, John said the two never discussed the specifics of James' success.

"I know that he had nice things and nice places to live," he said, adding that he believed James had become a millionaire after struggling with his business, James Ray International, for years.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk asked John, who helped in James' seminars when he could, if his brother was qualified to lead experiential events, and if he had pirated pieces of wisdom from teachers and philosophers along the way.

"I know he never made anything up," John said. "I can't tell you specifics but I know he had many teachers, made many trips in his studies."

In John's mind, the proper result of this lengthy adjudication would be probation, in large part because James has taken on the responsibility of caring for the siblings' aging and ailing parents.

"I'm praying for probation," he said. "He's no threat to society. All he ever wanted to do was help people. I know this was an accident; he's not a criminal."

Earlier, South Carolina dentist Matt Bynum testified that he had known and respected James Ray since 2004, telling the court that Ray saved his marriage and taught him to see things with "soft eyes," devoid of ego.

"At one point in my practice I would have been considered a bad boss," Bynum said. "I changed a lot after attending the events, and people noticed."

Bynum said he had twice participated in Ray's sweat lodge events, once as a participant and once as a volunteer. He said he "had a great experience" and never saw anyone in acute distress.

But when Polk asked him if he thought it would be a good business practice to learn from accidents and "near misses," such as the mass illness that witnesses have described seeing after the 2008 event, Bynum allowed that it would. No one was hospitalized at that event, also held at the same Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center near Sedona.

Still, Bynum said he believed Ray deserved a chance at probation.

"I think he is a positive member of society," he said. "I think he would be instrumental in continuing to help a lot of people."

Amy Grothe worked for nearly four years as Ray's executive assistant, primarily responsible for making travel arrangements for a man who was on the road about 200 days per year. She said Ray was frequently involved in charitable activities, and showed "tremendous sadness" over the deaths at his event.

Grothe also noted that Ray sent a $5,000 check to the family of Kirby Brown to help with funeral costs, a move that has been derided as a feeble attempt to buy them off.

"I think he wanted to help them, and not insult them," Grothe said.

Alex Smythe, who was the accountant for James Ray International for several years, said Ray's business was often struggling, and that it owed its founder about $300,000 by the time it shut down in November 2009.

In all, according to court records, Ray's net worth in January 2010 was negative $4 million - this despite the fact Smythe estimated a total of 150,000 customers from 2006 to 2009.

The defense plans to present three more witnesses Thursday, including Ray's mother, Joyce.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.