Camp Verde - Several previous witnesses have painted an unflattering picture of James Arthur Ray, the self-help author and speaker currently on trial for manslaughter, describing him as aloof and uncaring when folks who depended on him needed him most.
Dr. Jeanne Armstrong, who on Thursday testified about helping with CPR on Kirby Brown and James Shore, two of the three people who died after the sweat lodge ceremony that was the final event of Ray's 2009 Spiritual Warrior retreat near Sedona, had a somewhat different experience.
On Friday, under cross-examination by defense attorney Truc Do, Armstrong painted a picture of Ray and the seminar with a different brush than had those who found the experience painful and frightening.
Armstrong, a doctor and businesswoman from Indiana, said she looked on the entire seminar as a "challenge to how you think about yourself." She thought the samurai game was "a little silly," but recognized the metaphor it presented, and enjoyed the vision quest for the opportunity to "concentrate on the feelings I was having."
Above all, Armstrong agreed that none of the seminar's events were an opportunity for Ray to exert "mind control" over the participants by conditioning them to blindly follow every command.
Do pointed to early media reports of the tragic deaths after the sweat lodge ceremony, reports that referred to Ray as a guru and to the participants as cult followers. She asked Armstrong if those terms would apply to her.
"Absolutely not," Armstrong answered. "I was offended by it. Because we acted in a way that they didn't understand we must be this crazy cult. To me it was not an adequate portrayal of the people attending these events.
"I'm nobody's lemming."
And even though she was a bit apprehensive about the sweat lodge itself, Armstrong said she wanted to try it because "it's a new thing, and I wanted to try a new thing.
"I knew I could leave at any time if I didn't like it."
Armstrong lamented that she had not been able to save Kirby Brown and James Shore who, in her opinion, were already deceased by the time she found them behind the sweat lodge where others were performing CPR.
She said she never had any contact with the third victim, Liz Neuman, who had been at the event as one of Ray's Dream Team volunteers.
She said she was puzzled at one point, while attempting to revive Brown.
"I did have this thought as I was performing CPR on Kirby," she said, "that this is someone who is younger than I am and in better condition. Then why, if this is heat-related, was it so easy for me?"
Armstrong had earlier testified that the sweat lodge ceremony was not a major ordeal for her, that she helped one man exit the lodge at the end and that she had even given a celebratory, arms-raised gesture when she left the lodge.
Under Do's questioning, Armstrong said that she could not say that heatstroke caused the victims' deaths simply because they had been in a sweat lodge. As a doctor, she agreed, she would have to examine more records and ask many questions.
The day's final witness, Laurie Gennari, had a starkly different take on the events of the week. She had attended several of Ray's previous seminars and said "there was always some little thing I would latch onto and I thought, that was good, maybe he'll get to the better stuff next time."
But from the moment she arrived at the Spiritual Warrior camp, for which she had paid more than $11,000 including room and board, she felt forced, even bullied, into following Ray's orders.
Her take on one of Ray's catch phrases, "play full-on," "mostly meant to me, do as he says."
She said she felt sleep-deprived and usually hungry, and after seeing people "just shot down" for questioning Ray, she decided that she was "pretty much going to keep my head down and stay off the radar by going along and not making waves."
Because she felt afraid to need an unscheduled bathroom break, she largely ignored Ray's weeklong urging that the participants hydrate thoroughly.
The sweat lodge experience was not a pleasant one for Gennari, who sat near her friend Laura Tucker and Liz Neuman. She noticed that Neuman was having trouble but, near the end of the ceremony, decided she had to leave.
As she neared the exit to the lodge, though, she said Ray told her she was too late, that she must wait until the next round was over before she could leave.
At the end, she said she "blacked out" while trying to leave and was dragged out of the lodge. After hearing of Neuman's illness and death, she said she questioned herself incessantly, and that even though she herself was weakened by the vegetarian diet, the lack of sleep and other elements, she laments she didn't do more to help.
"There's another part of me," she said, "that says why didn't you pick (Neuman) up and drag her out of there?"
Testimony in the trial, which is expected to last until early June, is set to resume Tuesday.