The manslaughter trial for "spiritual warrior"/snakeoil salesman James Arthur Ray, the Oprah-approved "self-help guru" charged with the deaths of three people in Sedona in 2009, is underway in a Yavapai County Courtroom, where prosecutors and Ray's attorneys are in the midst of jury selection.
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.
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.