Self-help guru James Arthur Ray was sentenced Friday to two years in prison in the case of the sweat-lodge deaths two years ago of three people who attended his annual Spiritual Warrior retreat in Sedona.
Supporters asked for probation for the three convictions of negligent homicide, but relatives of victims requested the maximum prison sentence of over nine years in prison, saying Ray, 53, an Oprah-endorsed self-help expert who continued operating James Ray International after the deaths, had done little to redeem himself.
“My heart’s been ripped out. My life has been blown apart, and the pieces are yet to land,” said Virginia Brown, mother of victim Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y. “Mr. Ray is selling something that is faulty and needs to be recalled … Please take him off the market.”
James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, and Lizbeth Marie Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., also died during the purification ceremony and at least 15 others became ill.
During pre-sentencing hearings in Camp Verde, Ariz., Ray wept, agreed to pay $57,000 restitution and apologized for what he says was a tragic accident.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said. “At the end of the day, I lost three friends, and I lost them on my watch. … Whatever errors in judgment or mistakes I made, I’m going to have to live with those for the rest of my life.”
At Ray’s four-month trial earlier this year, witnesses who paid $10,000 for the retreat testified that Ray told them the sweat lodge would feel unbearably hot, but they needed to persevere.
“Instead of growth and enlightenment, [the victims] found death in Mr. Ray’s sweat lodge,” Yavapai County prosecutor Sheila Polk told the jury.