On October 8, 2009, two people died and more than a dozen were hospitalized after a botched ceremony at a retreat led by motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray near Sedona, Arizona.

The sweat lodge exercise was part of a five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event held at a rented retreat center located six miles from Sedona.

Participants paid more than $9,000 each to attend the retreat. At the time, James Arthur Ray, who was born in 1957 and grew up in Oklahoma, was known for books like his 2008 bestseller “Harmonic Wealth: The Secret to Attracting the Life You Want,” and had appeared as a guest on a number of television shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Inspired by a Native American custom designed to purify the body and spirit, Ray’s sweat lodge ceremony took place in a wooden structure covered with tarps and blankets.

Inside the enclosed space, water was poured over heated rocks to create steam and the temperature rose dangerously high, causing many of the more than 50 participants (who had been encouraged to fast for 36 hours before the event) to develop respiratory problems. .

Witnesses later reported that Ray had urged people to stay inside and endure the intense heat as a form of personal defiance.

Two people, Kirby Brown, 38, and James Shore, 40, passed out but remained inside the sweat lodge and died of heat stroke.

More than a dozen people were hospitalized for dehydration and other medical problems.

On October 17, a third participant in the ceremony, Liz Neuman, 49, died.

In February 2010, Ray was charged with manslaughter. When his case went to trial the following year, the prosecution argued that the self-help guru had acted carelessly and had shown no consideration for people who fell ill during the ceremony.

The defense claimed the participants were free to leave the sweat lodge at any time and said the deaths were an accident and could have been caused by unknown toxins in the ground.

During the four-month trial, witnesses claimed that people had been sickened or injured at previous retreats led by Ray, and Native American groups expressed outrage at the misuse of their sacred sweat lodge tradition.

On June 22, 2011, a jury in Camp Verde, Arizona found Ray guilty of three counts of negligent homicide.

On November 18 of that same year, he was sentenced to three concurrent prison terms of two years and ordered to pay approximately $57,000 in restitution to the families of the victims. He was released on supervised release on July 12, 2013.

Categorized in: