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Statewide media swarmed the homicide scene Friday, Jan. 6, just south of Sedona while forensics crews attempted to salvage evidence in what the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office declared a double homicide.

YCSO deputies and the Arizona Department of Public Safety officers worked into the night Friday, Jan. 6, at the scenic overlook at mile post 364 between Forest Road 89B and Page Springs Road southeast of State Route 89A between Cottonwood and Sedona.

A red Subaru with New Hampshire license plates was found at the site and contained two dead bodies, an adult man and woman, according to Dwight D'Evelyn, public information officer for YCSO.

YCSO found shell casings and other evidence indicating one or more suspects fired from outside the car striking both victims. A motive has not yet been developed, according to D'Evelyn.

The bodies were removed from the location Friday night and taken to the medical examiner to be identified. YCSO will then attempt to locate the victims' families.

Officers drew their weapons and headed into the forest surrounding the area after the victims were found around 11:30 a.m., according to Sedona Red Rock News reporters on scene. Passengers, who may have found and reported the bodies, from three Jeeps parked at the location were interviewed.

YCSO detectives are requesting contact from anyone who was in this area recently to immediately call YCSO at (928) 771-3260. Even if you think the information may not be significant, YCSO encourages you to call and share what you know to help determine a timeline of events leading up to the murders. You can also report information anonymously to Yavapai Silent Witness at 1 (800) 932-3232.

A rescue operation on Castle Rock for a stranded hiker turned into a recovery Dec. 28, after search crews located the body of a stranded Brooklyn, N.Y., man.

A number of agencies searched for the stranded hiker, Mahdi Harrizi, 21, beginning Dec. 27, after family members reported him lost in an area near the Village of Oak Creek. The family was vacationing at a local resort and were in contact with the stranded hiker via cell phone.

Rescue workers in helicopters from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, right, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety search Wednesday, Dec. 28, for a Brooklyn, N.Y., man who went missing Tuesday, Dec. 27, while hiking near Castle Rock south of Sedona. Numerous agencies searched for the 21-year-old man, Mahdi Harrizi, who was found dead Wednesday after apparently falling off a cliff.Authorities believe Harrizi later attempted to climb down himself and fell to his death from a cliff face. The body was recovered Dec. 28, according to Dwight D’Evelyn, spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

“[Crews] found that he had fallen off a ledge. That was the issue, apparently, was that he was stuck and didn’t know which way to go. It appears, after he made it known he was stranded, he tried to get down off the mountain and fell, possibly 150 feet,” D’Evelyn said.

Crews searched for Harrizi throughout the night Dec. 27.

“We got a call [Dec, 27] at 3:40 p.m.,” D’Evelyn said. “Initial reports said the 21-year-old male had been hiking and apparently became stranded on a ledge and contacted his mom via cell phone. That generated a call to us.

“We came out, formed up and have basically been trying to locate him ever since. There’s quite a bit of family with him, including his mother.”

During the evening hours, search crews reported a number of possible sightings that did not result in Harrizi's rescue, D’Evelyn said. Authorities were also unable to track his location via his cell phone.

“The method we use to GPS it doesn’t work too well,” he said, adding Harrizi’s cell carrier gets little reception in the area.

Search crews also used infrared equipment, but were still unable to locate Harrizi. A ground search, D’Evelyn said, can be very difficult in rocky terrain.

Although it has not been determined when Harrizi fell, the lack of any contact with him in the early stages of the search may indicate he attempted to move and fell shortly after the phone conversation with his mother, D’Evelyn said. Final determination on cause and time of death will be determined by the Yavapai County Medical Examiner.

A number of agencies filled a parking lot near the search area Dec. 28. Personnel from YCSO Response Team, a Yavapai County Jeep team, Coconino County Search and Rescue, Guardian Air, Arizona Department of Public Safety and Guidance Helicopters responded to the initial search and rescue effort.

“This tragic incident is a reminder that the beauty of rugged mountains in this area can deceive persons to access places where it may be difficult to safely escape if stranded,” D’Evelyn said. “Another hiker died earlier this year from a fall in the nearby Sedona wilderness. YCSO search experts recommend that if you become stranded on a ledge, do not move, maintain communication if possible, and let rescue personnel come to you as they are best equipped to provide your safe return.”

Patrick Whitehurst can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 125, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Campfire and smoking restrictions will be lifted on the Coconino, Kaibab, Prescott and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests beginning Friday at 8 a.m.

Recent rains along with higher humidity and increased fuel moistures have lowered fire danger on the forest, thus decreasing the risk of major wildfires.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to practice fire safety and prevent human-caused fires,” Coconino Fire Staff Officer Russ Copp stated in a press release. "Although campfires and smoking will be allowed throughout the forest, people should never leave a campfire unattended. Campers should make sure they pack a shovel and about five to six gallons of water to extinguish their campfire completely before leaving."

“Lifting the restrictions does not mean people can be careless with fire," Kaibab Fire Staff Officer Doug Ottosen stated. "Although campfires and smoking will be allowed throughout the forest, people should ensure that they properly extinguish their campfires, never leave a campfire unattended and use ashtrays to dispose of their cigarettes.”

Forest visitors are also reminded that campfire restrictions may vary on different national forests. Please call the nearest land management office or (877) 864-6985 for current information or visit the Public Lands website to stay informed.

For additional information about Coconino National Forest, visit the website or call (928) 527-3600.

Call Kaibab Fire Information Officer Punky Moore at (928) 635-5653.

Call the Prescott National Forest at (928) 777-5799.

For additional information about the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, visit the website or call (928) 333-6280.

A sophisticated computer virus that attacked Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office early morning April 19, then spread to computers in every department of county government, appeared to be under control Friday, April 22.

Yavapai County Administrator Julie AyersCounty computer technicians believed they had the virus under control numerous times in test environments during the past few days but quickly determined it was still present, Yavapai County Administrator Julie Ayers said.

“It’s been extremely challenging,” Ayers said. “We will be working throughout the weekend. We have our fingers crossed that we have a solution. It has been successful in the lab environment and we began to roll it out to departments [Friday] morning.”

“It’s a very sophisticated virus. It is very good at hiding itself. It has multiple ways of promulgating itself and hiding within the servers,” she said.

The Treasurer, Human Resources and Board of Supervisors offices were up and running on a limited basis Friday as technicians tried to determine whether the fix was successful, Ayers said.

The selection of departments to be cleared of the virus first was not based on priority, but proximity to technicians, she said.

Known as Qakbot, the virus probably made its way into the system through an email attachment sent to YCSO, despite up-to-date antivirus software, Ayers said.

The attack did not appear to be directed at Yavapai County specifically since government computer systems were simultaneously impacted in other areas of the nation, Ayers said.

“I don’t know how public others affected are being about it, but we are not alone,” Ayers said.

The virus is normally directed at financial institutions, she said.

County computer technicians were aware of the presence of the virus almost immediately as errors and glitches began showing up on screen in the YCSO and then elsewhere around the county.

The only county departments not affected by the virus are the Superior Court, Clerk of Court, and Juvenile Probation departments because those systems are separately tied into the state judicial system network, Ayers said.

Work performed by any county employee using computers between 6 and 7 a.m. April 19 was lost. The county’s computer system was shut down almost immediately after the virus was discovered, she said.

A ban on Internet use by county employees continued through Friday as the three department systems were operated in a test environment to determine whether the virus was still embedded.

Ayers said she was extremely proud of the way county departments found ways to work around the problem, although several employees whose jobs are limited to use of a computer were sent home on vacation.

“For example, the health department has gone back to charting medical records by hand, the same type of system they used 20 years ago,” Ayers said.

The county, which has crisis management plans for fires and floods, will devise a similar plan for computer system crashes to handle any similar situation that may arise in the future, Ayers said.

Recently released numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that while Yavapai County and the Verde Valley grew in population, in some places like Camp Verde the growth was less than some people were expecting.

Late last year, the 2010 census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution to be conducted every 10 years, revealed that America’s population grew by nearly 10 percent from 2000 to 308,745,538.

Late last year, the 2010 census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution to be conducted every 10 years, revealed that America’s population grew by nearly 10 percent from 2000 to 308,745,538.Arizona accounts for 6,392,017 of that figure, a nearly 25 percent jump from population figures released in 2000. It was enough to give the state an extra seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which divides up the set number of 435 representatives based on population. When one state gains a seat, another state loses one.

Population in Yavapai County also exploded nearly 26 percent from 167,517 in 2000 to 211,033 people counted in 2010. That growth also has representation repercussions because state law requires counties with more that 175,000 residents to be governed by a five-member board of supervisors. The county currently has a three-member board and has been looking at options for county redistricting.

On every level of government, including counties, cities and towns, population plays a role in how much funding from federal and other sources a local government may be eligible for.

In the Verde Valley, every municipality in the region gained population except for Sedona.

The city in the red rocks lost 161 over the last three years with a 2010 population of 10,031.

In Camp Verde, officials had been expecting much more growth that what the numbers actually revealed following a decade that brought a good bit of housing construction at its midpoint.

While there are a few more houses in 2010 than there were in 2000, the population grew from 9,451 to 10,873 over the same period.

The number represents a 15 percent growth rate, one very close to what the census bureau was projecting. The bureau’s 2009 estimate of Camp Verde’s population was 10,871.

“I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t get more people,” Camp Verde Mayor Bob Burnside said. While people have had many different opinions how to approach growth, Burnside said he’s looking for ways to bring more dollars into the community, and higher a census number might have helped. “I think something is going to turn around eventually,” Burnside said.

In Cottonwood, population grew by nearly 22 percent, pushing Cottonwood ahead of Camp Verde as the most populous town in the Verde Valley.

Cottonwood’s 2010 population stands at 11,265, up from 9,179 a decade earlier, a gain of 2,086 people.

Clarkdale also enjoyed near 20 percent growth, with recorded population numbers jumping from 3,422 to 4,097 over the past 10 years.

That’s fewer people than the census bureau predicted, as it estimated Clarkdale was home to 4,252 people in 2009.

Jerome, once one of Arizona’s largest cities, has no doubt had the most experience with population swing. Still, the town that once dwindled to only 50 or so people decades ago continues to attract more residents.

The year 2000 had been another decline for the mountainside town, dropping to 329 people from 403 in 1990. But the past 10 years have brought even more people back into the community, with 115 new residents swelling the population to 444.

The Camp Verde Journal and Cottonwood Journal Extra will continue to analyze the wealth of data released about the Verde Valley in the coming weeks.

With a jury now in place, opening arguments are expect-ed to begin this week in Camp Verde in the manslaughter trial of motivational speaker and self-help author James Arthur Ray.

The trial, which is expected to last for the next few months, will also be broadcast on live television.

James Arthur Ray, 53, was charged with three counts of manslaughter after Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside a sweat lodge at Angel Valley Retreat Center in October 2009Ray, 53, was charged with three counts of manslaughter after Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside a sweat lodge at Angel Valley Retreat Center in October 2009.

The center was the site of a $10,000-a-head retreat hosted by Ray’s organization, James Ray International.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow gave the go-ahead last week for the trial to be broadcast by “In Session,” the daytime court segment on TruTV, formerly Court TV.

Darrow granted permission over the objections of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who argued live broadcasts, if seen by witnesses expected to be called, could have an effect on their testimony.

Darrow issued a reminder to both the prosecution and the defense to inform potential witnesses to avoid media coverage of court proceedings.

David Bodney, an attorney for the television network, argued live coverage would advance “Arizona’s tradition of courtroom access.”

In a motion filed late last month, Bodney argued the network has covered several high-profile trials over the years without incident, including the trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Opening arguments are expected to begin Tuesday, March 1.

In the meantime, Ray’s defense team continues to seek to prevent audio recordings made during the retreat from being entered into evidence.

The recordings, according to a motion filed by the defense, include five days of personal sessions between Ray and event attendees, culminating in an orientation session just before the sweat lodge incident.

The defense argues everything prior to the sweat lodge orientation session is irrelevant to the criminal charges against Ray and some of the recordings contain sensitive personal information about participants at the event.

The state argues the recordings are “highly relevant” to illustrate both Ray’s mental state and the mental state of the people who were participating in the event leading up to the sweat lodge ceremony where three people died. The state also claims the participants were told to act like “samurai warriors” preparing for the “ultimate battle,” and they should devote themselves 100 percent or “exit dishonorably.”

The state’s response to the defense motion to prohibit the recordings from evidence paints a picture of an event where participants were told to prepare to experience “altered states” and follow the rules as laid down by Ray.

“Excluding the audio from this case would be like excluding the meeting of bank robbers where the plan to rob the bank was discussed,” Polk wrote in her response to the motion.

The defense is also hoping to limit other potential evidence and testimony citing a lack of relevance to the actual crimes with which Ray is being charged.

Darrow has set aside more than 60 days for the trial, excluding Mondays.

Many believe the Verde Valley’s growing wine industry boosts the local economy, but not until a University of Arizona economist studied the issue was its impact fully understood.

In 2009, the industry added nearly $4 million to the Verde Valley economy in terms of sales tax revenue and wages paid to local workers, according to Erik Glenn, University of Arizona assistant agent for community resource development.

Kevin Grubb, an assistant tasting room manager, collects a soil sample for a presentation on common aromas and flavors of wine Friday, Feb. 18.Glenn announced the figures while summarizing the conclusions of his report at Cottonwood City Council’s regular meeting Feb. 15.

The full report is nearly finished and will be presented to the Verde Valley Wine Consortium soon. The consortium will decide whether and when to release it to the public, Glenn said.

More than 50,000 gallons, or 21,000 cases, of wine was produced in the Verde Valley in 2009. Production for 2010 is expected to show a 25 percent increase, according to a study prepared by Glenn for the Verde Valley Wine Consortium.

“The wine industry contributes a great deal. It has a huge impact,” he said. “It creates commodities to be sold and resold, creates experience other service providers can use, spends money with private business and employs people, almost all of who live in the area and spend their paychecks here.”

There are currently 13 federally licensed wineries in the Verde Valley that use grapes grown at 14 local vineyards. Including 10 local businesses that sell Arizona wine. The industry employs 124 residents on a full or part-time basis, Glenn said.
That equates to nearly $3 million in wages paid and $750,000 in sales tax collected, he said.

These dollars, together with those spent by wholesalers, retailers, tourists, restaurants and grocery stores, mean an estimated $31 million changes hands in the local economy thanks to the wine industry, Glenn reported.

“There are also noneconomic benefits,” Glenn said. “Wine producers preserve open space and preserve the agricultural heritage of the Verde Valley. They contribute to the community’s positive image.”

Even through the current recession, winemakers have been expanding their operations, he said.

“There are challenges ahead but many opportunities. The future looks bright if we all do our part to support winemaking in the Verde Valley,” Glenn said.

“Wine is also a heart-healthy drink,” Councilman Terence Pratt said. “[Economic Development Director] Casey Rooney should be commended. He’s helped Cottonwood a lot through his work with the consortium.”

Pratt said a constituent told him on Feb. 12 there was a line of people waiting to get into a wine-tasting room in Old Town that extended out onto the sidewalk.

“It brings people in from out of town, wine aficionados from all over the country. It’s created a sense of place,” Pratt said.

“The study does show it is a great economic engine for Cottonwood and the Verde Valley,” Mayor Diane Joens said.

Attorneys are scrambling to file final motions and make last-minute preparations as James Arthur Ray prepares to go to trial Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Ray, 53, is a motivational speaker and self-help author facing three counts of manslaughter in Yavapai County Superior Court.Late last month, attorneys for both the prosecution and defense made attempts to have certain witnesses excluded from testifying at the trial.

Ray, 53, is a motivational speaker and self-help author facing three counts of manslaughter in Yavapai County Superior Court.

The charges stem from a fatal incident at an October 2009 weeklong event held at the Angel Valley Retreat Center outside of Sedona.

Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside a sweat lodge, a large tent-like structure heated to high temperatures.

Many, particularly medicine men, in the American Indian community have objected to the tent being called a sweat lodge, arguing a true sweat lodge is part of a sacred religious ceremony, not something like Ray’s $10,000-a-head retreat.

Ray, who is based out of California, turned himself in to authorities in Prescott in February 2010. He made bail after a short incarceration in the Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde and has since been given permission to not come to court hearings unless absolutely necessary until his trial begins.

The case has involved legal back-and-forth over the past year over everything from financial records to audio recordings. Last week, Ray’s defense team made efforts to have testimony from one of the state’s expert witnesses excluded.

The witness in question is Rick Ross, a man the defense describes as a “self-proclaimed expert in ‘destructive cults, controversial groups and movements.’”

The defense is concerned Ross will explain to a jury Ray used specialized techniques to “control” participants in the sweat lodge ceremony, keeping them inside the tent even if they started to feel ill.

The defense argues Ross’ testimony is irrelevant, since it presumably will focus on the issue of why participants felt they couldn’t leave the tent, something the defense contends no one will testify to.

“Because Ross’ testimony is based on a counterfactual scenario,” the motion reads, “it is irrelevant and has no probative value whatsoever.”

The defense goes on to argue Ross has no basis to testify to the motivations of the participants in the sweat lodge incident, and he’s never even talked to one of them. Furthermore, the defense calls into question prior problems Ross had with the legal system, including a 1991 jury that the defense claims found Ross responsible for kidnapping a man for a religious deprogramming; that jury order Ross to pay $2.5 million in compensation, according to the motion.

In a motion filed by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, the state is seeking to prevent the defense from introducing “irrelevant and unduly prejudicial evidence” against Ross. The state points out Ross has testified as an expert witness in no less than 10 states, and he’s extremely knowledgeable about persuasive techniques that can cause people to act at odds with their common sense.

The state addresses the 1991 jury decision, which involved a case with the Church of Scientology, and argues Ross has not been involved with the forceable detention and deprogramming of adult cult members since 1990, although he still does similar work with juveniles at the request of parents or child protective services.

The defense is also hoping to prevent the state from using the testimony of Steven Pace, an expert in corporate
risk management.

The defense argues expected testimony from Pace on acceptable corporate risk practices has no bearing on Ray’s criminal proceedings. Furthermore, the defense contends there is no evidence the three deaths in October 2009 were related to the absence or presence of risk management policies.

Furthermore, even if it were found Ray’s company had a duty to institute the “gold standard” policies they expect Pace to describe, the defense argues it would still have no bearing on Ray as an individual.

The trial is set to begin Feb. 16 in Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde. Judge Warren Darrow has set aside more than 60 days for proceedings.

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