The manslaughter trial of snake oil salesman James Arthur Ray could be televised live, the judge overseeing the case ruled today.
In Session, formerly Court TV, requested to cover the trial live saying it would "advance Arizona's tradition of courtroom access," according to the Associated Press. It probably won't hurt the network's bottom line, either.
Prosecutors argued that witnesses might be intimidated by live coverage, which could impact Ray's ability to receive a fair trial.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow felt otherwise. He says the possibility of harm doesn't outweigh the public's right to coverage of the trial.
Ray's been charged with three counts of manslaughter for the October 2009 deaths of three participants of a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona.
According to court documents obtained by New Times, Ray discouraged participants from leaving the sweat lodge, even as some were throwing up and passing out.
One of the victims, 49-year-old Liz Neuman, of Prior Lake, Minnesota, died of multiple-organ failure after the ceremony. The other two victims, 38-year-old Kirby Brown of Westtown, New York, and 40-year-old James Shore of Wisconsin, each fell victim to heat stroke after being in the sweat tent.
Ray maintains that the deaths were a tragic accident, but prosecutors feel that stuffing dozens of people into a hot, poorly ventilated sweat tent -- and then discouraging them from leaving -- is more than just an accident.
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Ray's attorneys have repeatedly tried to have the trial moved from Yavapai County to somewhere closer to Phoenix. They don't believe it's possible for their client to get a fair trial in Yavapai County because of extensive media coverage of the case. They've renewed a request asking the trial be moved to Maricopa County.
The Associated Press reports that his attorneys say jury questionnaires reveal widespread prejudice against Ray in Yavapai County.
Ray's lawyers made a similar request last summer, which was denied by Judge Warren Darrow. At the time, though, Darrow said he'd still consider the request as the case moves closer to trial.
Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin March 1.