Former follower speaks out about guru's enlightenment tactics

ABC News 15, Arizona/March 2, 2011

Camp Verde, Arizona - As the prosecutor begins to call witnesses and former followers of spiritual guru James Ray to the stand to describe the day three people died, one former volunteer says Ray's ego took his games of enlightenment over the edge.

"He enjoyed playing God," said Connie Joy, who has written a book about her experiences. "You have to picture him in the Samurai Game dressed in a white robe, pointing at people. When they say he said to die, I mean in a booming voice, pointing at you and saying, 'Die!' And if you didn't drop instantly, he really started screaming at you to die."

Ray is charged with three counts of manslaughter for the deaths that resulted from a sweat lodge ceremony he held outside Sedona during his "Spiritual Warrior" retreat in 2009.

Like many others, Joy volunteered at Ray's events, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to be enlightened. At one point she even facilitated participants bending rebar with their throats.

Joy said she was supposed to attend Ray's "Spiritual Warrior" retreat, but had a falling out with him when he started pushing his followers to scale Machu Picchu at a dangerous pace during a retreat in Peru.

"You were seeing a progression over time of more extreme, extreme activities, and he kept trying to top himself each year," said Joy. "That's just going to head in one direction."

Ray's attorneys argue every adult in America has free will, and that no one forced anyone to do anything. They also point out all the participants signed waivers. His defense attorney, Luis Lee suggested those harmed in the sweat lodge suffered from poisoning from chemicals and toxins in the materials used to construct it, not from Ray's actions.

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