Camp Verde, Arizona - The mother of self-help author James Ray contends that her son has been misportrayed by the state in its manslaughter case against him, and holds out hope that he will be vindicated.
"I think that he's being portrayed as a real cruel human being, as someone that has no feelings for anyone, that just wants to be a dictator so to speak, and that isn't him at all," Joyce Ray said Friday in an exclusive interview with "In Session."
"The truth is he's a strong human being that loves people and he wants to help them to be stronger in their lives and I believe that the witnesses will come forth that will tell that," the mother said.
Asked what the biggest untruth was, she said, "That he's very egotistical, and he's very domineering and he's very self-centered. And that's not James."
Joyce Ray, who has been attending court almost daily since his trial got under way on March 1, acknowledged that her son "comes across sometimes as egotistical," but said he's not really that way. "I mean, he still wants to help people. He doesn't want to go off and sit in the corner somewhere. He has a special gift that I think he needs to use."
Author James Arthur Ray is charged with three counts of reckless manslaughter in connection with the October 2009 incident at a spiritual retreat outside Sedona, Arizona. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison on each count. Three people died and at least 15 others who took part in the ceremony became ill. More than 40 others were uninjured.
Prosecutors argue that the lodge -- made of willow trees and branches, and covered with tarpaulins and blankets - was heated to a perilously high temperature, causing the participants to suffer dehydration and heatstroke.
Ray's attorneys have argued that exposure to an unknown toxin, perhaps a pesticide, in the lodge could have caused the fatalities.
The participants in his seminars paid up to $10,000 apiece to seek "new areas of consciousness," according to testimony.
Many had attended previous James Ray International seminars, believing they would become better people and, for some, more effective in business.
Joyce Ray said her son had always been strong. When he broke his leg as a child, he voiced no complaint as they waited in the emergency room for him to be treated. "He just sat there very nonchalant, waiting with his little leg dangling," she said, describing him as "the most disciplined person that his father and I have ever known."
She said he routinely challenged people in his seminars, even his own parents. "He's challenged us to do things that we would never do otherwise and we think, 'Oh, my,' and we've done them. And we've proved ourselves that we are greater than so many of these little mundane things that so many people will let themselves be destroyed by, that we can be victors in life and he wants people to know that."
Ray said her son was influenced deeply by Scripture, incorporating some of it into the challenges that he literally laid at the feet of his seminar participants. "When he told me, 'Mom, you're going to walk on fire,' it's like, 'I don't know, son. I believe it can be done, I've seen it done, but I don't know I can do it.'
"'Yeah, Mom, you can do it.' and I did it several times. No hurt. Nothing."
Such achievements make people realize they can "cross over to become a victor rather than a victim," she said. "So many people in life are just victims. Whatever comes their way, they're just, 'Woe is me,' and we don't have to live like that."
But she expressed sadness over the victims of the sweat lodge ceremony.
"Our whole family has cried and prayed for those people and their families," she said. "We know they hurt and we're so sorry that that happened to them and yet accidents do happen and we feel that all will work out to the better."
She said the deaths devastated James, but she could find no explanation other than "the rain falls on the just and the unjust."