Judge delays Arizona sweat lodge trial

Associated Press/April 14, 2011

Camp Verde, Arizona - The trial of a self-help author charged with manslaughter in the deaths of three people following an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony has been postponed until next week while the defense seeks out new evidence.

Attorneys for James Arthur Ray argued for the continuance Thursday so they could conduct interviews related to the construction of the sweat lodge Ray used during a 2009 retreat he led near Sedona. The three people who died were overcome in the sweltering structure.

Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter.

The continuance came a day after a judge refused to grant a defense request for a mistrial despite finding that prosecutors violated legal rules when they did not turn over an email from an environmental scientist who pointed to the construction as a contributing factor in the deaths.

Ray's attorneys said conducting interviews of that scientist, the lead detective and county officials familiar with building codes could take two weeks.

But Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow, seemingly frustrated with another delay in the case, gave the defense until next Wednesday, saying a continuance "is not a light thing to request."

"I expect both sides to work in good faith so that the trial will continue," the judge said.

Opening statements began March 1, with the trial scheduled to run Tuesdays through Fridays until June 10. Since then, jurors were excused for a day when one called in sick and for two days this week while the attorneys argued over Richard Haddow's email to prosecutors a year ago. Haddow said in the email that the off-center rock pit, poor circulation and the length of time victims spent inside the sweat lodge contributed to their deaths.

Prosecutors turned over the email to the defense last week, saying it earlier became lost among 8,000 pages of documents disclosed so far. Darrow said the email clearly was favorable to the defense and that prosecutors misrepresented that any information from Haddow existed.

The state objected to a continuance and argued that witnesses with knowledge of the sweat lodge construction could be recalled after the defense interviews Haddow, which it plans to do this week. Defense attorney Tom Kelly told Darrow he preferred not to fracture the testimony of witnesses.

In seeking out new evidence, the defense plans to look into the permitting process for temporary structures in Yavapai County. The owners of the Angel Valley Retreat Center that Ray rented for his weeklong "Spiritual Warrior" event did not have a permit for the sweat lodge nor was an inspection conducted by county officials before it was dismantled.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.