James Arthur Ray: Witnesses ask for leniency for self-help author

The Arizona Republic/November 16, 2011

The self-help entrepreneur, convicted in June of three charges of negligent homicide, faces nearly 10 years in prison. But, on Tuesday, three of his supporters testified that he has helped them and others and should not have to serve time.

"I truly believe he saved my life," said Jack Lane, a former Army staff sergeant who testified that he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder linked to combat tours in Iraq and Somalia, among other places.

Fighting back tears, Lane said he was planning his suicide earlier this year when Ray, after receiving a Facebook message from Lane, called him. Lane said Ray met with him just before Ray's trial began and helped him turn his life around.

He said Ray encouraged him "to take all of my experience from the military and use those tools to look at my future as a new mission."

Lane was one of 12 supporters, friends and relatives whom Ray's attorneys planned to call to the stand this week before his sentencing Friday. Last week, family members of the three victims testified, calling for Ray to serve the maximum sentence of nine years and nine months.

Ray's conviction stems from his role in the deaths of Kirby Brown and James Shore at a long and hot sweat-lodge ceremony Ray led at Angel Valley resort near Sedona in October 2009 and the death nine days later of Liz Neuman, another participant. Neuman died of massive organ failure. The ceremony was part of Ray's five-day "Spiritual Warrior" seminar.

Ray's attorneys have argued that he should be eligible for probation because of his lack of a prior criminal record, because he did not intend for anyone to die, and because of what they termed his good character and record of community service. They argue that Ray, who has said he'll never lead another sweat lodge, poses no risk to society, is remorseful and is needed to help care for his ailing mother.

Ray's attorneys have asked Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow, should he impose a prison term, to allow Ray to remain free on bail, pending the outcome of their planned appeal of his conviction.

A former probation officer who attended four Ray seminars testified Tuesday that his teachings gave her confidence and made her a better person. "I think he'd be a stellar candidate for probation," Jennifer Kwasny said.

But under questioning from Yavapai County Prosecutor Sheila Polk, Kwasny said she wasn't familiar with the specifics of the trial, the testimony or the evidence presented. She also said that she had not had permission from Hawaii's court, where she worked, to identify herself officially in writing a letter of support for Ray and that she only knew Ray from his seminars and a couple of phone calls.

The other witness called Tuesday, David McCall, testified that Ray's seminars helped him quit smoking and improve his family relationships. McCall, who owns a small trucking business in Texas, said he and his family spent about $125,000 over the course of a year to take part in Ray's various events.

The sentencing hearing continues today in Prescott.

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