Self-help guru James Arthur Ray was found guilty of negligent homicide Wednesday, nearly two years after three people died in a sweltering sweat lodge for one of his exercises.
The Camp Verde, Ariz., jury, which deliberated for barely a day, chose not to convict Ray of the more serious charge of manslaughter, as the prosecution had urged.
Ray, 53, faces a sentence ranging from probation to 11 years in prison; the manslaughter conviction would have resulted in up to 37 years in prison.
Ray was accused of contributing to the deaths of two men and a woman who took part in a $10,000 Spiritual Warrior exercise in 2009 that included entering a sweat lodge.
The prosecution claimed that Ray made the lodge too hot and that he implored participants to trust him and persevere even if they felt they couldn’t take the heat.
Witnesses at the trial, which started March 1, included loyal followers of Ray’s who testified that he taught them to ignore their fears and believe what he said.
Longtime Ray friend Lou Caci testified that he’d attended a Ray sweat-lodge ceremony before, but this one was “a lot hotter” with about twice as many people, and as he stumbled out, he burned his hands on the hot rocks.
Outside the lodge, the scene was “like a battleground” with people vomiting, foaming at the mouth and their eyes nearly popping out, said Caci.
But Ray’s defense argued that participants could leave at any time, and that poisonous pesticides in the ground may have contributed to the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, James Shore, 40, and Liz Neuman, 49.