Author jailed in Arizona sweat lodge deaths freed
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (AP) — An author who saw his self-help business crash after he led a sweat lodge ceremony that left three people dead was paroled from prison on Friday after serving nearly two years for negligent homicide convictions.
James Arthur Ray, 55, was freed from the state prison near Phoenix. Nothing in his conditions of release prohibits him from holding self-help seminars or conducting another sweat lodge ceremony, but his brother said Ray has no immediate plans to resurrect his business.
However, Jon Ray didn’t rule out the possibility in the future, maintaining the deaths weren’t his brother’s fault.
“At this point, he wants to get out and hide out, and start putting his life back together, which has been completely turned upside down,” he told The Associated Press earlier this week. “I say that with all due respect because I know a lot of people’s lives have been turned upside down because of this unfortunate incident.”
The tragedy occurred after dozens of people traveled to a scenic retreat just outside Sedona in October 2009 for James Arthur Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event.
The sweat lodge was the culminating event, touted as “hellacious hot” and a chance for participants to have powerful breakthroughs.
Things started going wrong about halfway through the two-hour ceremony. When it was over, a 38-year-old man and a 40-year-old man were dead, and 18 others injured.
Another 49-yearold man slipped into a coma and died after more than a week in the hospital.
At trial, prosecutors said Ray ratcheted up the heat to dangerous levels, ignored pleas for help, and watched as overcome participants were dragged out of the sweat lodge.
A jury acquitted him of more serious manslaughter charges and convicted him of negligent homicide. He served 85 percent of the concurrent two-year terms for each of the deaths. Ray has appealed the convictions, alleging that errors by the prosecution tainted the case.
Ray has acknowledged that he was responsible for the deaths but offered no excuses for his lack of action as the chaos unfolded at the sweat lodge. He and his attorneys said Ray would have stopped the ceremony had he known people were dying or in distress.
None of the victims’ families believes that 20 months was a sufficient sentence. They have said they would rather not see Ray in the self-help industry, or he should at least be more accountable for his actions.
James Ray declined interview requests from The Associated Press.
Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff in Buckeye, Ariz., contributed to this report