Autopsy reports released in AZ sweat lodge deaths

Associated Press/March 16, 2010

Camp Verde, Arizona - Two people who were overcome in an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony last year were unconscious when emergency crews arrived, and an autopsy concluded they died of heat stroke upon arrival at a hospital.

Autopsy reports released Tuesday show multi-system organ failure was the cause of death for a third person attending the October ceremony led by motivational speaker James Arthur Ray.

Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter in their deaths and is free on bond.

According to the autopsy reports, 38-year-old Kirby Brown of Westtown, N.Y., and 40-year-old James Shore of Milwaukee died of heat stroke. Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., died after more than a week in the hospital from multi-organ failure due to hyperthermia from prolonged sweat lodge exposure, the reports show.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow ordered the first and last pages of the reports released during a hearing Tuesday in Camp Verde. He ordered that the autopsy photographs be withheld.

Darrow also set a trial date for Aug. 31 and allotted 56 days for the jury trial. A status conference is scheduled for April 26.

Ray has built a multimillion-dollar empire as a self-help superstar who teaches people about financial and spiritual wealth. He gained popularity after appearing in the 2006 Rhonda Byrne documentary "The Secret," which he promoted on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Larry King Live."

The Oct. 8 sweat lodge ceremony was intended to be the highlight of Ray's five-day "Spiritual Warrior" event at a retreat he rented near Sedona.

About halfway through the two-hour ceremony, some participants began feeling ill, vomiting and collapsing inside the 415-square-foot structure. Authorities allege that despite that, Ray urged participants to push past their physical weaknesses and chided those who wanted to leave.

Ray's attorneys have said he took all necessary safety precautions and wasn't aware of any medical problems until the ceremony was over.

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