Trial date for motivational speaker charged in AZ sweat lodge deaths vacated; no new date set

Associated Press/July 14, 2010

Flagstaff, Arizona - The trial for a motivational speaker charged in the deaths of three people following a sweat lodge ceremony he led in Arizona won't begin next month as planned.

James Arthur Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter stemming from the deaths last year. His trial was scheduled to start Aug. 31, but a court document released Wednesday said the date was vacated. No new date was set.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow recently was assigned to another trial in Prescott after the presiding judge became ill. That trial was expected to overlap with the starting date for Ray's trial, and Darrow noted in court documents that he might not be available until November to review anything but routine matters in Ray's case.

Darrow had suggested the Ray case be handled by another judge, but it hasn't been reassigned.

A hearing on pending motions is set for Aug. 10. They include a motion to move the trial out of Camp Verde, and a request to compel prosecutors to disclose all information regarding the medical examiners' opinions.

Other defense motions seek to have Ray's financial records, testimony from prior Ray-led events and autopsy photographs barred from trial.

Prosecutors earlier asked Darrow to exclude all exhibits in support of the pending defense motions, including photographs, news articles, search warrants and transcripts. They argued submitting the exhibits circumvented the rules of evidence. Darrow denied the motion this week.

Ray led more than 50 people in an October sweat lodge as part of his "Spiritual Warrior" retreat near Sedona. Kirby Brown of Westtown, N.Y., James Shore of Milwaukee and Liz Neuman of Prior Lake, Minn., died, and 18 others were injured.

Medical examiners concluded Brown and Shore died of heat stroke and that Neuman's organs shut down due to hyperthermia.

Only the first and last pages of the autopsy reports have been released, and they included no information on how the medical examiners reached their conclusions. Darrow ordered those portions sealed at the request of the state, and defense attorneys did not object.

Sweat lodges commonly are used by American Indian tribes to cleanse the body.

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