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