James Ray trial: Ray and witness both break down in tears during testimony

The Daily Courier, Arizona/March 17, 2011

Camp Verde - Lou Caci's face still appears on the case studies page of James Arthur Ray's website, even after the tragic October 2009 sweat lodge that led to the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman.

Caci and Ray, friends for nearly 20 years, found themselves across a courtroom from one another for the second straight day Thursday. A witness for the state, Caci had little trouble enduring an amiable cross-examination at the hands of defense attorney Luis Li, at least until the end, when the subject of Neuman arose once again.

Caci agreed when Li suggested that Caci was the type of person who would help someone, even a perfect stranger, if the person was in apparent distress. He also had to agree that he didn't help Neuman, who collapsed in the sweat lodge and never regained consciousness before passing away nine days later.

"Why didn't anybody else look after her?" Caci asked, before allowing that, had he known she was dying, he would have done anything he could to save her.

Then, as Li, having completed his questioning, walked away, Caci's and Ray's gazes met and both men succumbed to the emotion of the moment, breaking down in tears and causing Judge Warren Darrow to call a brief recess.

During the cross-examination, Caci recounted times the two men had spent together in the past, including Ray's attendance at his wedding. And, despite having suffered second-degree burns on his wrist and forearm after stumbling into the pit of hot rocks while trying to leave the sweat lodge, Caci had nothing but praise for Ray, who he said was "very good at ...taking the teachings from various religions and outlining it" in ways that were useful.

As on the previous day, the defense touched on the possibility that something other than heatstroke caused the three deaths for which Ray, charged with manslaughter, faces the possibility of 30-plus years in prison. Li produced Caci's medical records from the Verde Valley Medical Center, showing that doctors there at least initially suspected carbon monoxide poisoning or toxic fumes as the cause of his apparent, though temporary, disorientation.

Perhaps taken aback by these claims, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk objected when Li referred to a part of the lodge shell as a tarp, insisting that he instead refer to the blue covering simply as "material."

Taking the stand after Caci was Dr. Jeanne Armstrong of Indiana, a medical doctor and a participant in the 2009 Spiritual Warrior retreat who testified that she had no great difficulty enduring the rigors of the sweat lodge ceremony, even though she went in with a strong dose of apprehension.

"I don't generally like being hot," Armstrong said. Still, from her position relatively close to the lodge's entrance, Armstrong was able to take advantage of the fresh air that came in between rounds.

She said she did not notice much of the turmoil that others have said was taking place as the ceremony progressed.

"I was busy thinking about my life and what I was going to do with it," Armstrong said, "I really wasn't paying attention to what was going on around me."

When the ceremony finally ended, Armstrong was relieved and made her way out, helping one man along the way.

"I felt real good that I had met this challenge," she said, "but at the same time I was ready for it to be over."

Her evening, however, was not over. After a brief time cooling off, she noticed that people were calling for help.

She first went to Sidney Spencer, who she discovered was breathing steadily despite being barely lucid and showing signs of distress. Then she heard someone say that others were performing CPR on two people behind the sweat lodge.

"I ran over and told them who I was," Armstrong said, "and I just sort of assessed what was going on."

She lent her efforts and expertise to the aid of the two patients, Kirby Brown and James Shore, and at one point noticed Ray standing between the two.

"He asked me if there was anything else we could or should be doing," Armstrong said, adding that she asked Ray if a defibrillator was available.

None was at the scene, and Armstrong was unable to say if the presence of the device could have saved either or both of them. Even before paramedics arrived, Armstrong had strong doubts that either could be revived.

Prosecutor Bill Hughes asked Armstrong if altered mental states, which Ray touted as one of the goals of the very hot sweat lodge ceremony, was indicative of heatstroke.

"That's probably the hallmark," she replied. "It would be classic if someone was having heatstroke to have some form of altered mental state."

Armstrong's testimony is scheduled to continue tomorrow in Superior Court.

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