Records in Arizona sweat lodge case offer details

The Associated Press/March 18, 2010

Prescott, Arizona - Documents released Thursday in the case of a motivational speaker charged with manslaughter expand on the already wide range of experiences participants reported having during an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony.

James Arthur Ray, who led the ceremony as part of his "Spiritual Warrior" retreat, faces manslaughter charges in the deaths of three people who entered the sweat lodge near Sedona last year, and suffered heat stroke and hyperthermia. Ray has pleaded not guilty.

The more than 50 people inside the pitch-black sweat lodge all could be called to testify during Ray's trial slated to begin Aug. 31. Prosecutors also have identified as potential witnesses more than two dozen other people who attended past events led by Ray and about 10 people who worked for him.

Twelve jurors could end up hearing more than 55 days of testimony from witnesses.

Some participants of the October retreat have told authorities that Ray took heed to the concerns expressed inside the sweat lodge and tended to the ill afterward. Others have said Ray did nothing as participants vomited and lay unconscious on the ground.

Still others appeared torn, a detective noted in the documents released Thursday.

Stephen Ray, who was among the 18 people hospitalized following the ceremony, said he hasn't recouped his sense of taste or smell and still has ringing in his ears, severe headaches and trouble sleeping.

He said James Ray "showed a callous disregard for the participants because of his own ego and greed."

Christine Mattern said she emerged from the ceremony feeling that "everything that I was experiencing was probably normal" but suggested Ray could have broken up those at the retreat into small groups for the ceremony in order to better care for participants.

Ray sat near the opening of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge and poured water over a pile of hot rocks that was placed in the center. Sweat lodges commonly are used by American Indian tribes to cleanse the body.

Tammy Eshelman, Ray's former executive assistant, told authorities that Ray's skills as a trainer and teacher were amazing and didn't believe he intended to hurt anyone.

"Yet it happened, and he has to have some responsibility for it," she said. "You can't just go, 'oh, darn."

Megan Fredrickson, who most recently served as the director of operations for Ray's Carlsbad, Calif.-based company, James Ray International, said her experience with sweat lodges came solely from those led by Ray. But she recounted few details of the six she has attended.

Fredrickson said no one was monitoring the temperature in the sweat lodge. Most participants acknowledged they understood the heat would be intense and said Ray told them vomiting and passing out were normal.

"Everyone's monitoring themselves, so it would be a matter of, if they felt that it was dangerous or their perception was that it was dangerous, then their monitoring would be choosing to exit," she said.

Prosecutors contend Ray recklessly crammed everyone inside. His attorneys have called the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., tragic accidents.

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