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Sweat Lodge Tragedy Timeline

Key Events by Date


Many of my readers have asked me to continue keeping them informed on all developments regarding the Angel Valley Sweat Lodge Tragedy, the criminal investigation and details of the charges, court proceedings, jury deliberations, and sentencing. Below is a timeline of events as they played out.

November 18, 2011 - James Arthur Ray Sentenced to Two Years - Found guilty this summer for his actions (and in-actions) during and following a 2008 dangerous and fatal sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona Ray was sentenced today in court.

June, 22, 2011 - Ray Escapes Conviction for Manslaughter - Jury finds him guilty of the lesser charge of negligent homicide.

June, 21, 2011 - Jurors begin their deliberations to decide James Ray's fate (manslaughter, negligent homicide, or acquittal).

May 17, 2011 - Angel Valley Retreat Lawsuit Settlement - Michael and Amayra Hamilton, owners of Angel Valley Retreat Center, have come to an agreement with seven sweat participants and the families of the three individuals who died as a result of a sweat lodge ceremony

April 14, 2011 - Motion for Mistrial Denied in James Ray Trial - The defense petitioned for a mistrial, but it was denied, instead Judge Darrow granted a few days to re-invent their defense plan.

February 2011

February 25, 2011 - Live coverage of trial expected - Judge Darrow agrees to allow television cameras in the courtroom.

February 23, 2011 - Jury selection is still underway. Opening statements will begin on March 1st. Judge Darrow has ruled he may reconsider a motion to change venue depending on outcome of jury selection.

February 3, 2011 - Jury selection begins Feb. 16 - Ray's attorneys are seeking a change of venue. James Arthur Ray's attorneys are convinced that Ray will not receive a fair trial in Yavapai County and have made a second request to have the case moved to another courthouse. The request is based their argument that pre-trial jury questionaires indicate "widespread prejudice against their client in Yavapai County."

February 2, 2011 - Testimony Disallowed - Testimony of prior ceremonies conducted by Ray have been excluded from the trial. Judge Warren Darrow acknowledged that James Ray's previous events were conducted similarly to the October 2009 Angel Valley sweat tragedy. However, he noted that there was no medical evidence to support that the participants in those events suffered life-threatening conditions, nor was it evident that Ray had any awareness of danger of death in those cases.

January 2011

January 18, 2011 - The trial judge, Honorable Warren R. Darrow, ruled against prosecutors discussing James Arthur Ray's financial status in upcoming court case. The court date for the manslaughter charges has been set for Feb. 16 in Camp Verde.

October 2010

October 4, 2010 - February 2011 Trial Date Expected - The original trial date set in August has come and gone. Defense attorneys and prosecutors are agreeable to a mid-February trial. The trial will be held in Yavapai County despite James Ray's attorneys motion to move the trial to Phoenix.

July 2010

July 15, 1010 - Trial Date Vacated - Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow who was scheduled to preside over James Ray's trial will be overtaking another trial due to another judge's illness. This will either push the manslaughter case that was originally scheduled to begin on August 31 into November or the trial will be reassigned to a different judge.

July 7, 2010 - James Ray's lawyers filed motions in court to exclude evidence from his upcoming manslaughter trial. They want his financial and business records excluded because they feel this information would generate prejudice against Ray, also waste judicial resources. The lawyers also ask that autopsy photos and testimony from participants of prior events be barred - stating irrelevance to the case. Motions are to be heard by the court July 20-21.

April 2010

April 2, 2010 - Class-action lawsuit filed to recover prepaid fees for cancelled events. The suit claims that refund requests have been ignored by James Ray International. James Arthur Ray stopped holding his motivational events shortly after tragic death and illness occurred in October 2009 at Angel Valley. (Reported by Arizona ABC15.com)

March 2010

March 23, 2010 - James Ray is offering free weekly informational videos sharing his personal "wealth of information" on his Web site it leu of his business no longer operating. Quote from his intro video: "... you might also be aware that I don't have a company any longer and so I am unable to produce live events and get out and travel around the country like I'd like to at least for the foreseeable future until this issue is brought to some closure..." March 16, 2010 - Deaths ruled accidental - Report of Autopsy released by the Office of the Medical Examiner in Flagstaff, AZ show Liz Neuman died from multisystem organ failure due to hyperthermia due to prolonged sweat lodge exposure. Kirby Brown and James Shore both died from heat stroke.

February 2010

February 26, 2010 - James Arthur Ray is Released on Bail - Judge Warren Darrow reduced the bail amount from $5 million to $525,000. Reduced bail was based on testimony determining Ray's financial worth. In addition to posting bail, other conditions for his release required him to turn over his passport to the court and also agreeing not to conduct any sweat lodge ceremonies or other activities that might harm others.

February 3, 2010 - James Arthur Ray arrested, charged with three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman.

Post-Arrest Articles
What is being said following Ray's grand jury indictment:

CNN Video of Ray's Arrest - Ray could get 4 to 10 years imprisonment for each of the 3 counts of manslaughter.

Sweat Lodge Survivor, Beverly Bunn, Talks About Arrest - Bunn, said she has no ill feelings toward Ray but is satisfied in knowing he cannot continue his work. "He's going to be brought to justice for what he did, " she said. "His lack of responsibility and negligence to the situation."

Ray pleads "not guilty" - Ray did not speak in open court, his lawyers entered a "not guilty" plea on his behalf. A request was also made for his $5 million dollar bond to be reduced. Preceding judge was Judge Warren Darrow. (source: www.mercurynews.com)

January 2010

January 30, 2010 - In response to Jame Ray's first interview, Andrea Puckett (daughter of Liz Neuman who died of complications nine days after the sweat) speaks out by referencing this quote from Ray's book Harmonic Wealth: "Now, that doesn't mean I don't apologize and adjust my behavior when I do something that hurts someone else. That's just part of being responsible for your actions. It seems so simple, and yet it's not the norm for people to take personal responsibility for their results and their actions." Puckett wants Ray to "live his own words." ~Shakopee Valley News

January 28, 2010 - Amayra Hamilton, one of the owners of Angel Valley has reportedly called James Ray a perfectionist in response to Ray's attorneys suggesting that the "unsafe" construction of the sweat lodge was to blame for the tragic deaths. Michael and Amayra Hamilton are both named, along with James Ray, in pending "wrongful death" lawsuits.

January 24, 2010 - James Arthur Ray Ends Silence About Sweat Lodge - In his first interview since the incident, James Ray denies culpability. In his own defense, Ray claims no knowledge of sweat participants experiencing medical problems until after the sweat ceremony had ended. He said he made sure that 911 was called. He also says that until he was detained by the authorities that he was readily available assisting and nurturing individuals who were sickened following the ceremony.

January 19, 2010 - Arizona Politics - Arizona senator, Albert Hale introduces protection bill seeking regulation of the use of traditional Native American practices. Details about enforcement of this bill are yet to be determined. Senator Hale said a violation would likely be a civil offense similar to a traffic ticket.

January 12, 2010 - Arizona Republic - Transcripts (hundreds of documents) from numerous homicide investigation interviews were released to the public. Accounts are given from both participants and observers of the tragic sweat lodge event. In order for an arrest to be forthcoming criminal action must be apparent either knowingly, or through intent, recklessness, or negligence. The investigation is ongoing, and James Ray has not been charged with any crime.

December 2009

December 28 - Investigative documents were released in Prescott, AZ after a Yavapai County Superior Court judge ruled that they be made public. The affidavit gives details of fifteen witness interviews, also details of searches done at Angel Valley Retreat near Sedona and James Arthur Ray's corporate headquarters in California. Differing accounts were given regarding Ray's behavior during and after the sweat lodge ceremony. Extreme temperatures inside the sweat lodge is the only reason cited by investigators for causing the death of two sweat participants and sickening others. No charges have been filed.

December 8 - Recently fired employee of James Arthur Ray's Create Harmonic Wealth enterprise blows the whistle on Ray. Melinda Martin gave an exclusive interview to ABC about witnessing Ray's lack of care following the sweat. You can tune in tonight to hear the latest on ABC's Nightline tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET/ PT. Gary Tuchman will also be covering an allegation of a possible coverup in regard to a woman's suicide in July while participating in another one of Ray's events on AndersonCooper360 tonight on CNN.

November 2009

November 23 - James Ray posts a gratitude post along with Thanksgiving wishes to his followers on his blog. November 13 - Kinerk, Schmidt & Sethi, PLLC, the law firm representing Sidney Spencer and Dennis Mehravar, have created a Web site for the purpose of soliciting interviews from other participants.

November 11 - Third person sues James Ray. Canadian, Dennis Mehravar, has joined the earlier civil law suit filed in Flagstaff AZ on behalf of Sidney Spencer. Mehravar passed out in the sweat lodge, was hospitalized, and is still experiencing pain and dizziness. This looks like the beginning of a possible class action suit.

November 10 - Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh says investigators are working diligently on hundreds of interviews with people who were involved in the retreat or any of James Ray's past events. (AP - WTOP Radio www.wtopnews.com)

November 6 - Ernie Stensgar and other members of the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council denounce the exploitation of simulated sweat lodge ceremonies and other Native American traditions.

November 4 - James Ray puts his multi-million dollar Beverly Hills home on the market. There is speculation building regarding reasons Ray might be selling a home he purchased in March of this year.

November 2 - Native Americans fear sweat lodges are going to be regulated. "This is part of our religion," Cheyenne Medicine Man Eugene Blackbear said. "We don't want someone coming in here and making new laws, restricting our sweat lodge. You don't have to burn someone out in a sweat, or keep them from leaving. That's not right. A sweat is about prayer and healing."

November 2 - Lakota Nation leaders file lawsuit against the US government in Phoenix AZ against the United States, US attorney general, AZ governor, US attorney general, James Arthur Ray, and Angel Valley Retreat Center. The lawsuit refers to the Treaty of Fort Laramie between the United States and the Lakota Nation from 1868, which states that "if bad men among the whites or other people subject to the authority of the United States shall commit any wrong upon the person or the property of the Indians, the United States will (...) proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained."

October 2009

October 30 - Two lawsuits filed. Wrongful death suit filed in Flagstaff, Arizona court came from the family of one of the three people who died. Another suit filed by Tucson attorney Ted Schmidt, names James Ray and Angel Valley owners Amayra and Michael Hamilton as defendants. More legal action from others is likely to follow.

October 29 - Prayer sessions in sweat lodge violates city zoning laws. You have to wonder if the media attention drawn from the Sedona sweat lodge tragedy will have a domino effect on shutting down sweat ceremonies. Owners of Flowering Tree Lodge in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, have held three or four gatherings a month in their backyard for several years, but no more, the city has shut it down.

October 28 - James Ray cancels upcoming scheduled events - from his blog: "I'm postponing all the events I had planned for the remainder of 2009. These events will be rescheduled as soon as possible in 2010--once the essential work that must be done on the Sedona tragedy has been completed."

October 27 - US Senator asks for federal investigation into James Ray's business. Hyperion publishing house postpones publication of James Ray's new book, The Seven Laws of True Wealth.

October 26 - Attorney for sweat participant, Sidney Spencer, announces plans for pending lawsuit. Family of victim Kirby Brown appeared as guest on the Larry King Show (video clip).

October 23 - The Arizona Republic reports insights into the life of sweat lodge guru James Ray.

October 21 - Eyewitness speaks publicly about what occurred inside the sweat lodge. Beverley Bunn speaks to the Associated Press.

October 20 - James Ray vows to continue his mission - from his blog: "I have chosen to continue with my work. It's too important not to. One of the lessons I teach is that you have to confront and embrace adversity and learn and grow from it. I promise you I am doing a lot of learning and growing. I have taken heat for that decision, but if I chose to lock myself in my home, I am sure I would be criticized for hiding and not practicing what I preach."

October 18, 2009 - Third victim injured in sweat lodge dies following several days in a coma in hospital. Her family takes steps to file a lawsuit on her behalf.

October 15, 2009 - James Ray holds a private phone conference with surviving sweat participants. (Anorak -transcript of call)

October 13, 2009 - First hand account shared of the aftermath of this tragic event. Sedona Talk Radio broadcasts Shawna Bowen's personal experience of what was happening on the scene. Shawna arrived at Angel Valley shortly after the sickened sweat participants had exited from the sweat lodge. Jim Tree, representative from the Native American Leadership Alliance, is also featured in this radio broadcast to give background about how a traditional sweat lodge is run.

October 11, 2009 - James Ray posts his condolences - from his blog: "I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives as well as offer my prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill. "

October 8, 2009 - James Ray leads a sweat lodge ceremony inside a dome-shaped structure constructed at Angel Valley. There were approximately 50 to 60 participants. Twenty one of these individuals were taken to area hospitals after becoming ill for treatment. Two people died, a few others remained hospitalized. At least one person was placed under critical care.

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