Camp Verde - Echoes of a lost life hung thickly over Judge Warren Darrow's courtroom Tuesday after a jury heard the recorded voice of Kirby Brown, one of three people who died after a sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona in 2009.
The deaths led to charges of manslaughter against noted motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray, who has pleaded not guilty.
"When we started the (Samurai) game, I was like you," Brown said on the recording, which was made just before she and the other attendees entered the sweat lodge. It is a segment from recordings made during four days of Ray's October 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat. "I was gonna be the hero, and I died right there before it even began."
Brown, 38, went on to recount the efforts she made to try to save her teammates in the game from sharing her fate, saying that she swallowed her own vomit in an attempt to lie perfectly still. Had she moved, Ray, playing the role of God, would have sentenced another of her team to death.
"As I laid there dying and everyone was working, I kept sending my energy to them," she said.
"I realized that the dead are with us, that the loved ones of the past are with us."
Brown also told of an encounter she had with her late great uncle during her vision quest the day before.
"A powerful figure came to me," she said. "He was the person I would always go to to ask for advice. I've missed him.
"He came to me and I just said thanks for coming here and do you have any advice. He said, 'I have three words for you - keep things simple.'
"That's the same thing he said to me before he died."
Brown's recorded musings were the object of fierce debate among the attorneys. Prosecutor Bill Hughes argued that Brown's statements should have alerted Ray to her state of mind, echoing the state's contention that Ray's persuasive prodding left Brown and other attendees willing to exceed sensible personal limits of endurance in order to please their spiritual leader.
The defense, on the other hand, insisted that playing the voice of one of those who died in what they call a tragic accident was overwhelmingly prejudicial and without relevance.
Defense attorney Miriam Seifter added that the admission of the tape obviously left the defense without the ability to cross-examine.
Darrow, though, overruled the defense objections on Tuesday and allowed the recording, with the proviso that it be accompanied by a limiting instruction that told the jury there was no way to confirm the truthfulness of Brown's words.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk played the recording during the testimony of Jennifer Haley, a 46-year-old hairstylist from Ventura County, Calif., who told the court she was present when the recordings were made.
Haley, on the witness stand for the third time, was a member of Ray's volunteer Dream Team. She had previously attended the entire series of Ray's events as a participant.
Because of her bad sweat lodge experience at the 2007 version of Spiritual Warrior, Haley said she "didn't believe in that seminar."
In 2007, Haley said, she "stayed four rounds and I felt like I was going to die. I felt like my dreams (of completing the entire series of Ray's events) were not going to come true."
In the end, though, she did complete the experience, taking two breaks during the 12-round affair. And although she said she quickly recovered that day, she also testified that she and a Dream Team volunteer had helped another woman, Hermea Nelson, who was less fortunate.
"It took a while before she could talk," Haley said, "and it was two hours before she could walk."
Haley said she and the volunteer, Sandy Williams, had taken Nelson into a shower and then into a tub to try to bring her around.
"By the time we got her in the bathtub, she could open her eyes and she started to be able to move."
During defense attorney Truc Do's cross-examination of Haley, a question arose about the true extent of Nelson's distress. Do implied that Nelson was not suffering from trauma due to excessive heat but rather from simple muscle cramps that the bathwater alleviated.
She then tried to introduce into evidence a photograph she said was taken later that evening of Nelson and Ray, both of whom were smiling widely.
That attempt set off another round of legal fireworks, with Polk arguing that the defense was violating Arizona's rules of evidence in that they had not disclosed the photo before that moment.
Do insisted that she had just received the photo the night before and, further, that disclosing it would be tantamount to "giving a cross-examination outline to the state."
Darrow, though, disallowed admission of the photo, to the obvious displeasure of Ray's defense team.
Continuing her testimony, Haley said she finally decided to attend Spiritual Warrior in 2009, realizing that her experience could be of some help to others.
While the attendees were on their vision quests, she said, the volunteer Dream Team members had something of a day off, during which the female members, including Liz Neuman, who died a week after the event, brought some wine back to the Angel Valley retreat center.
Their talk and drinking disturbed Ray, who chastised the group.
"He came in angry and realized there was wine on the table and said we were disrespecting the place we were in," Haley said. "He just told us we weren't doing an adequate job."
Ray's criticism, she said, was especially hurtful to Neuman, Haley said, adding that the veteran Dream Team member seemed "sad, disappointed and insecure."
During the sweat lodge, Haley said she was stationed outside, charged with using a hose and buckets of water to cool off participants who left the intense heat.
"We were supposed to make the people comfortable as soon as they came out," she said, adding that there was no discussion of what to do if people needed medical help.
By the time three rounds in the sweat lodge had passed, people started having trouble, Haley said. Dennis Mehavrer told her he was afraid he was dying and "continually kept screaming for maybe 10 minutes." Lou Caci burned himself on the rocks in the sweat lodge pit but, after minimal first aid, went back in.
"He wasn't of right mind and he was injured badly," Haley said. "He wasn't capable of making a decision.
"I took care of everybody I could," she said, "watering them down. In the end there were a lot of people getting dragged out."
Haley acknowledged under Polk's examination she had no medical training except that which she'd acquired in daily life. She was somewhat unprepared, then, when she saw Kirby Brown and James Shore, 40, lying outside the sweat lodge.
"I first ran to James Ray and told him two people weren't breathing and he needed to come over there," she said. "He said, 'Get the nurse."
The nurse turned out to be another volunteer and Haley's roommate, Lisa Rondan. And while Rondan attended to Brown, Haley said she and another woman unsuccessfully attempted CPR on Shore.
Haley said she saw Neuman being pulled out of the lodge. She said that although her friend was incoherent and moaning, she herself moved to be of help elsewhere "because there were other people there and she was breathing."
Later, Do asked her if she believed the incident involving Ray and the wine had anything to do with the deaths. Haley allowed that it did, and used a Ray-inspired catchphrase to explain.
"I believe that (Neuman's) feeling shameful (about drinking wine) had everything to do with her dying," she said, "because she was 'more than that.'"