Sweat-lodge-trial: No sign of poisons in victims

Associated Press, March 31, 2011

Camp Verde - A medical examiner who performed autopsies on two people who died in a sweat lodge ceremony said Thursday that he saw no signs they were exposed to pesticides or poisons but that he didn't initially test for them either.

Dr. Robert Lyon said Thursday that testing for organophosphates was unnecessary because he received no information that could have factored into the deaths of Kirby Brown and James Shore.

An attorney representing a self-help author facing manslaughter charges contends that authorities cherry picked the information given to Lyon, leaving out medical records or statements that mention toxins. Lyon testified in James Arthur Ray's trial that he based his conclusion on the deaths of Brown and Shore almost entirely on circumstantial evidence.

"You would agree that the reliability, accuracy, integrity of your conclusion is only as good as the information that was provided to you?" said defense attorney Truc Do.

Lyon agreed but said he was more certain than not that heat stroke caused the deaths of Brown and Shore based on their autopsies, toxicology tests, some of the participants' medical records and information from authorities investigating the case. A third participant, Liz Neuman, slipped into a coma and died nine days later due to multi-system organ failure.

Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter.

Prosecutors are trying to convince a jury that Ray recklessly caused the deaths and should be convicted of manslaughter. They say the evidence will show organophosphates played no part in the deaths.

Lyon first heard about organophosphates in relation to Ray's case a couple of months ago when an investigator contacted him and asked that blood samples from Shore and Brown be sent to a lab for testing.

He said he would have done it sooner had he known about a man who expressed concern about the type of wood burned to heat rocks placed in the sweat lodge or a statement made the night of the ceremony about organophosphates.

The blood samples came back negative, but Do said the lab noted the results essentially are useless because too much time had passed since Brown and Shore died.

"Because you didn't test at a relevant time, you cannot exclude organophosphates as a cause?" Do asked Lyon.

"Correct," he said.

Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ray recklessly caused the deaths and that there were no intervening causes for a jury to convict him of manslaughter.

One juror wanted to know to what degree a person would have to be exposed to organophosphates to die within two hours - the same time Brown, Shore and Neuman spent inside the sweat lodge. Lyon wasn't sure but testified that he never dealt with a death caused by organophosphates in his 11-year career, which is typically found in common pesticides.

Those who would know about the use of pesticides or poisons haven't testified yet. That includes the owners of the retreat Ray rented for his October 2009 "Spiritual Warrior" event and the people who tended to the fire.

Sheriff's officials told Lyon before he performed autopsies on Brown and Shore that a sweat lodge was held, people complained about the heat, some got sick and at least two people had died.

The autopsies showed Brown and Shore were healthy, aside from evidence that Shore had heart disease, Lyon said. Both had no pulse and weren't breathing when emergency responders arrived at the scene.

Lyon held off on releasing the results of those autopsies at the request of the sheriff's office, which hadn't concluded its investigation of the case. He later participated in a meeting held with his colleagues, prosecutors and law enforcement in which they discussed the causes of death.

The coroners had some disagreement over whether to attribute the deaths to heat stroke or hyperthermia, which Lyon said is an umbrella term that also encompasses heat stroke.

None of the victims had a documented high core temperature, were dehydrated by medical standards and had pinpoint pupils at some point, which Do said indicated their deaths weren't caused by exposure to heat but possibly from toxins.

Participants were cooled with hoses and buckets of water as they emerged from the sweat lodge. Prosecutor Bill Hughes said that explains why some of their body temperatures weren't high, particularly since emergency responders weren't called immediately, and because the air outside was cooler than inside the sweat lodge.

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