Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Guru guilty over sweat lodge deaths

US self-help guru James Arthur Ray has been convicted of three counts of negligent manslaughter over a fatal sweat lodge event (AP)

A US self-help guru has been convicted of three counts of negligent manslaughter after holding a sauna-like sweat lodge ceremony.

James Arthur Ray told his seminar participants that it would be "hellacious" and that they would feel like they were dying, but would do so only metaphorically.

But three people did die following the October 2009 ceremony. Ray was found guilty by a jury in Camp Verde, Arizona, following a four month trial.

He faces a sentence ranging from probation to nearly 12 years in prison.

Ray headed a multimillion-dollar self-help empire which saw him appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live.

He used free talks to recruit people to expensive seminars like the Sedona retreat that led to the sweat lodge tragedy. Participants paid up to 10,000 dollars (£6,200) for the five-day programme intended to push their physical and emotional limits.

More than 50 people participated in the two-hour sweat lodge, a sauna-like ceremony typically used by American Indians to rid the body of toxins.

It was meant to be the highlight of Ray's Spiritual Warrior seminar near Sedona, Arizona. Two people were pronounced dead at the scene; a third died after spending more than a week in a coma; 18 others were treated in hospital.

Witnesses described the scene after the ceremony as alarming and chaotic - like a "battlefield" - with people vomiting and shaking violently, while others dragged "lifeless" and "barely breathing" participants outside. Volunteers performed CPR.

Lawyers disagreed over whether the deaths and illnesses were caused by heat or unknown toxins. Ray's lawyers maintained they were a tragic accident. Prosecutors argued Ray recklessly caused the fatalities.

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