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James Ray Trial Day 16: Bored Meeting

I love baseball, as I mentioned a few days ago, because it is played most every night for six months. Following your favorite team from April through September is like a really great reality series – there are subplots, emerging stars, unexpected developments, injuries, rookies, trades and so many other factors that go into the season-long success for failure of a team

Some nights, though, it’s flat out boring.

In the four-month event that is the James Ray trial, some days are starting to get boring.

Actually, I should correct myself. Late yesterday, for the last 90 minutes or so, I stepped away. Rachel’s son had a school dance. As has become the custom for these 90-minute dances, I dropped him off, and killed time by having a couple of beers and, last night at least, watching the NCAA basketball tournament.

I had tried to pause the testimony in the case. For whatever reason, I could not go back to see Scott Barratt’s first 90 minutes on the stand. He was a name I was not overly familiar with, surely not a vital state’s witness. Between pausing the computer feed, my Twitter friends (with their #jamesray tweets and updates), some news stories and Facebook postings, I would get the essence of what I missed.

So when it came time today for Mr. Barratt to continue on the stand, I was into it less than almost every other witness so far.

He was important for the state in that he is a former military pilot, an impressive figure standing 6’5” and in very good shape for his 62 years of age. Earlier in life he was even a cowboy. (How cool – how often do you meet a real-life cowboy!) He was another likable figure to present a jury while the defense continues to utter words like “cultish” to describe the conventional wisdom about their client’s fans and events.

Mr. Barratt was often very funny, didn’t appear to have taken a “side” in the case, and was a good foil to defense attorney Tom Kelly, who handled the cross examination. He provided testimony that James Ray knew a larger woman was presumably passed out behind Mr. Barratt, that he thought the sweat lodge participants had been “hypnotized” during the week to participate in dangerous activities and to suspend their normal common sense.

Those types of statements need to come from almost all participant witnesses for the state now; it will be the essence of prosecutors’ arguments at the close of trial – combined with that idea the Mr. Ray knew there was trouble, and a reasonable risk of serious injury or death.

I only write about the statements I did see, either in highlights or on TV/computer today. I do not want to characterize his overall testimony.

But it’s Friday, and this is a tiring trial. And it was just a bit hard for me to get into today.

So when I hear the defense ask each witness if this waiver looks familiar, and if they put one foot in front of the other to walk into the lodge, and whether they exercised free will and choice to participate, my eyes glaze over or I check my e-mail.

I wonder what the 17 remaining jurors (5 will be picked as alternates) must be feeling. At least when the lawyers argue or they are in recess, I can make lunch or pay a bill or run to the store. They are stuck in probably a small non-descript jury room.

So I hope that the overall impression of a credible witness trumps the repetitive, often important, testimony that they may not be focused upon.

I mean even Derek Jeter takes a night off once in a while, right?

James Ray Trial Day 15: Tom Kelly’s Mulligan

I’m a terrible golfer.

I know this. When I swing I have no idea where the ball is going, though I can reasonably assume it won’t go backwards, at least.  I’m more likely to chip a coffee mug than a golf ball into the hole. And, when on the putting green, I posses about as much touch as, say, Godzilla.

But I love to play. (If you define love as frequent pouting, throwing clubs and drinking enough beer during the round to eventually not care). So I’m very familiar with the term “mulligan.”

For non-golfers, a mulligan is essentially a do-over. When I hit a ball into the water, or the woods, or fail to reach the women’s tee – a got 1 or 2 chances a round to put down another ball and take my “mulligan”

Fellow Irishman Tom Kelly, the defense attorney for James Ray, seemed to take a mulligan today. After a round of questioning that he equated to “our fight” with prosecution witness Melinda Martin yesterday afternoon, he returned today in quite a different temperament.

His opening question to her was along the lines of “Would you agree that this jury is entitled to the truth without exaggeration, Miss Martin?”

Her claims to police and media in the days and weeks following the sweat lodge deaths that the scene was like a MASH unit and an EMT worker said it looked like a mass suicide (similar terms to participants descriptions by the way) served as exaggerations on her part. (Interestingly, with male witnesses, Ray’s attorneys tend to use sports analogies; with female witnesses, testimony is often guided or exaggerated by “emotion”)

Martin, Ray’s event coordinator (though her boss Megan Fredrickson served that role for the Spiritual Warrior event), hung tough. She thought carefully about her responses, at one point firing back “Now that’s an exaggeration on your part.”

Kelly also used her testimony to draw a legally-sketchy flowchart of the James Ray International Corporate structure. The new and improved, much friendlier Tom Kelly today, asked Melinda to walk him through various JRI employees to create a new (and surely more legal) flowchart.

Kelly’s questions were much less combative, he mentioned exaggeration only a couple of times almost matter-of-factly. As a result, Ms. Martin’s answers were more gentile and not as far-reaching. She never backed off those MASH/mass suicide statements, which I trust the state will revisit.

On a side note, Kelly’s numerous questions about the TV interviews Martin conducted may provide prosecutor Sheila Polk room to revisit them and their contents, either on redirect or perhaps as evidence. As Mr. Kelly knows, Ms. Martin mentioned the July death of Colleen Conaway during one of those interviews, including how the incident was kept from participants and herself.

James Shore and Lou Caci were among those who attended the event at which Conaway perished, and at which JRI employees lied about it.

If that evidence gets in, Mr. Kelly will not get a mulligan. He might have to put on the scuba gear to retrieve his “golf ball.” But it’s his client he would have sunk.

James Ray Manslaughter Trial, Day 14: Tom Kelly, The Human (Legal) Rain Delay

I am a fan of the New York Mets (one of my many faults, I know). Have been since age 4.

One of my favorite players, just a few years back, was a pitcher named Steve Trachsel. He worked very deliberately – yes, slowly – on the mound. People called him “the human rain delay” and said watching him pitch was like watching paint dry.

But I liked him because his deliberate nature allowed me to think about his next pitch as he did. Even when I saw him pitch in person several times, I could follow his thought process: Whether is was disrupting a batter’s timing, throwing inside or outside/up in the strike zone or down, when to throw to first, or which pitch to select in a certain count.

He wasn’t the best pitcher in the world, but to me, his approach was clear and I understood his strategies more often than not. But, I do admit, he was a nightmare for other people to watch.

I thought of him today watching the James Ray triple manslaughter trial. Today’s witness, Melinda Martin, is a former James Ray employee who was both at the Spiritual Warrior retreat and has spoken to the news media about the tragedy. Her testimony will not surprise the defense too much.

The defense attorney who will cross examine her is Tom Kelly. He is the man who has complained about the speed of the trial, complaining “I’m a busy man” who seemingly cannot afford a trial longer than anticipated. Every day he has objections and concerns, many relating to the 6th Amendment (essentially the right to a speedy trial).

But he has objected dozens of times to the state’s questions to Ms. Martin. Form of the question. Leading questions. Lack of foundation. It seems as if he’s objected to about 50 percent of Sheila Polk’s questions (and winning many objections by the way).

Obviously, her testimony stands to be among the most damning for James Ray; she was employed for only a few months; had never been to Spiritual Warrior or one of Mr. Ray’s sweat lodges; spent a lot of time helping others and being shocked at the conditions people were in, only to be told it was “normal” and to assume a sunnier disposition about the whole experience.

So Mr. Kelly’s repeated objections are serving to: keep out damaging testimony, to throw the prosecutors off their game; and to play both sides of the same coin by working slowly while also complaining things are not moving quickly enough.

Aside from possibly frustrating a jury that is surely eager to move along, Kelly’s legal strategy is fairly sound. And, truthfully, many of Ms. Polk’s questions are inadmissible, perhaps her attempt to get the jury to hear things that they won’t forget, even if she needs to rephrase the question.

These are among the legal maneuvers designed to convict, or acquit, a defendant. It’s all part of the game. While Kelly’s stall tactics annoy me, I’m thinking maybe I young lawyer is watching him like I once watched Steve Trachsel.

James Ray Trial Day 13: Clueless in Camp Verde

When I media train my clients, I try to tell them that about three quarters of what people remember is what they see, not what you say.

Do you have a stain on your tie? Are you friendly? Do you look uncomfortable talking about certain subjects. Do you think people will like you.

As I watch this trial unfold – both in and out of the courtroom – I’m paying very close attention to what I see; clues, if you will, that a good jury member might remember. The way defense lawyers and James Ray shift uncomfortably during strong testimony from the state. The facial expressions of a witness. Even the demeanor of the judge during objections.

The way we communicate non-verbally is so important and, although it cannot be evidence in a criminal trial, what we say without ever speaking is probably as important as what we do say with our mouths.

So I’m frustrated that this current witness, Laurie Gennari, has chosen not to be on camera – a wish Judge Darrow has granted. Though I am entertained when James Ray’s ears get red when he’s seemingly uncomfortable, I find myself missing out on the gesticulations of Ms. Gennari.

That is not to say she isn’t entertaining. When defense attorney Luis Li went through his now routine litany of “nobody forced you to do x,y,z” questions, he asked: “Nobody tells you what to wear?” she replied with “You haven’t met my mother.”

When Li asked “James Ray didn’t force you to sign up?” Gennari replied with “There’s a complicated question.”

Shifting subjects once, he said “Now let’s talk about the vision quest.” Gennari: “Now let’s.”

Tone aside, being unable to see Gennari makes her less of a “character” in this story. Of course, the jury CAN see her, and I trust her tone matches her expressions. It was clear to any viewer that Lou Caci was frustrated, embarrassed that he was injured and then didn’t help anyone in the sweat lodge, and was disappointed and angry at the man who called him friend for 20 years. If you watched his testimony with your TV or computer muted, you would know that.

The defense, knowing Gennari was landing body blows on their client, brought up a lawsuit she filed last year against Ray’s company. That sparked nearly an hour of court debate, and an extended lunch break while the judge reviewed applicable case law (his body language was none too pleased to have to do so by the way).

Obviously the lawsuit could influence the jury as to whether Gennari is biased or not; her words make it clear that she has abandoned the teachings of Mr. Ray since spiritual warrior.

But I find myself yearning for more clues. After all it’s mostly what you see, not what you say.

James Ray Trial Day 12: Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil…

The legal system, as we know, is not perfect. And neither are the lawyers who work in that system.

I try to remind myself of that fact every day while I watch the James Ray manslaughter trial. When  I saw Dr. Jeanne Armstrong’s name on the state’s witness lists, I furrowed my brow. I have read the transcripts of her two police interviews. I knew that she personally attended 10 James Ray events; I knew she claims to have heard almost no chatter in the tent that people needed assistance (as a half dozen witnesses have already testified). I knew she claims she had no idea anything was wrong until she stepped out of the sweat lodge to see what Lou Caci described as “a battleground.” (She of course didn’t paint such a picture. Shocking I know.)

Because she’s a state witness, the prosecution has the right to ask her questions (redirect) after the defense attorneys complete their cross examination. Prosecutor Bill Hughes seems like a nice man. He’s a bit soft-spoken, polite, and unassuming. I can picture him as an usher in his church. But I thought he missed many opportunities. Among the testimony he could have jumped on, but did not:

• Dr. Armstrong did not think Lou burning his arm was severe enough to check on him or stop the ceremony;
• Her roommate, a woman named Amy, was carried out of the tent because she “passed out” (some of the words Dr. Armstrong DID hear). Dr. Armstrong assumed because Amy was “petite” that her injuries didn’t warrant checking up on (during or after the sweat lodge)
• Dr. Armstrong attended 10 events, and five days of Spiritual Warrior, but hardly knew anyone’s name, including the last names of her roommates;
• She claimed to be upset by the impression in the media that Ray was a cultist or running a cult (a word hardy reported in any mainstream media, because I personally monitored all stories and was in touch with many reporters) yet claimed not to know Beverley Bunn’s last name. Beverley was the first victim of the event to go on the record and was on each morning show, the front page of the New York Times, 20/20 and Dateline;
• Dr. Armstrong thought the 2-hour ceremony was about 30 minutes long; but correctly knew ambulances didn’t arrive for about 25-30 minutes after she began CPR on James Shore and Kirby Brown;
• She claimed it took her 1-2 minutes to exit the lodge, even though she traveled further than Dr. Bunn, who testified she took up to 10 minutes to exit because she was helping lift a heavy woman out of the tent;
• Dr. Armstrong testified that one of symptoms of heat exhaustion, which comes before heat stroke on a “continuum” is impairment, but was not asked if she or others suffered from impaired judgment
• She testified she tuned “the entire thing” out (rounds 3 to 7 at least) but nobody asked if she was sleeping, was passed out or possibly had impaired judgment herself.

This is Mr. Hughes’s profession, and there are many things he’s surely thought of about this case that never crossed my mind. If he told me I wasn’t mourning properly or I wasn’t being a good public relations practitioner, (as one journalist told me weeks after my cousin died) I might take exception. I do think the state is carefully laying groundwork, leading up to medical experts. And, truthfully, the jury can choose to mostly ignore her testimony because it conflicts with so many others’.

But from my couch, I saw a lot of wasted opportunity with Dr. Armstrong. I personally wouldn’t have called her to the stand, but I assume the state had a purpose. Her testimony following directly after that of Lou Caci, a 20-year friend of Mr. Ray’s probably eliminated some points the state had just earned.

And, let’s face it, it’s early in the case. One witness in a four-month trial is probably not as important as it seems in real time. But today it feels like a lost opportunity.

James Ray Trial, Day 11: Friendship, responsibility

I have a very close friend I’ve known for about 25 years, since I was 14 years old. Let’s call him Bean, since that’s what I call him.

I’m his daughter’s godfather. He was in my wedding. He is my go-to. If I need anything, he’s the first friend I think of. We’ve been through a lot together. We needle each other and, because we are basically brothers, we do ruffle each other’s feathers. His family is my family and vice versa.

If we horse around in his pool, or he knocks me out with his remote while playing Wii swordfighting too aggressively, or anything ever happened to me, I know Bean would have my back. Without blame or fault, he would make sure I got the care I needed and, if necessary, ask the questions I failed to ask.

I couldn’t help think of Bean today while watching the James Ray trial. This morning’s witness – carried over from yesterday – was Lou Caci. Caci was a personal friend of Ray’s for almost 20 years. Ray was in his wedding party; Caci attended more than a half-dozen of Ray’s events over the years. They had gone drinking before doing “men stuff” according to Luis LI, Ray’s attorney.

Caci has been limited to answering very specific questions. When Li peppered him with questions about who constructed the sweat lodge at the center of three deaths in this case, Caci wanted to explain his answer, but Li cut him off. Repeatedly, Li said it would “work better” if Caci just answered his questions, and nothing more.

Caci talks about the lessons he’s learned from Ray, even calling him a “good man.” Many of these lessons have to do with life’s struggles, being a better man, and accepting your responsibility for your actions.

But instead, in this courtroom, he’s limited mostly to “yes/no” answers and what he thinks of his friend, and his friend’s actions, and the lack of responsibility his friend showed in a horrific situation – in which Caci himself burned his arm in three spots and needed hospitalization.

Ray never asked him about his arm, during or after the sweat lodge. Ray never sent a single representative of his organization to the hospital, to check on Caci or the 17 others transported by ambulance or helicopter to nearby medical facilities. Ray never acted like a friend would.

Ray didn’t act like Bean would have.

This, of course, has almost nothing to do with the legal case at hand. However, when a true friend acts in a way you wouldn’t expect, the natural question is “Why?”  I wonder if the jury will ponder this “human question” outside of the legal questions involved.

While the legal minds debate the litigious questions on the air, as a lay person I wonder about these other questions: friendship, responsibility, impeccability, and being a good man. If the members of the jury – individually or collectively – ponder those concepts, James Ray might be in deeper legal trouble than his lawyers might know.

(It should be noted that at the end of the defense cross-examination of Caci, as they were asking if Caci knew Liz Neuman was dying and if he would have helped her if he knew she was dying, James Ray broke down in tears. This is a man who can cry on cue; but maybe, just maybe, he thought about either his friendship and his responsibility. I don’t really care; I just hope it hurt him with the jury.)

James Ray Trial Blog, Day 10: Information is Power

Information is power. Limited information is dangerous.
That’s what I keep thinking as I watch this trial unfold. James Ray’s lawyer, Luis Li, told the jury in his Opening Statement that Angel Valley burned the sweat lodge within 48 hours of the incident. I remember being on a conference call of James Ray’s just five days after the event in which Barb Waters (a Dream Team member) talked about the closing ceremony to the event and about the healing power of burning the sweat lodge.
Every person there was given a match to help light the fire to destroy the sweat lodge. James Ray thanked Barb for summarizing the event and apologized for not being there (he left town hours after the sweat lodge).
So while I watch the trial, and listen to the commentators on InSession, I keep waiting for the evidence to surface. There was a reference to that conference call in court this week, so it’s probably a matter of time. Or perhaps it’s a matter of 509(b)(2) so some other legal clause that binds the proceedings in Camp Verde, AZ.
Even when the truth comes out, it can be shaded (or not properly illuminated) by the lawyers involved. Stephen Ray suffered a coma due to his injuries in the sweat lodge. He doesn’t know how he got out of the tent. He woke up 2 or 3 days later in the hospital. He remembers saying “I’ve got to get out of here,” verbalizing  the so-called “runner’s wall” he has experienced in marathons and triathalons. Defense Attorney Truc Do clarified that he didn’t specify that he has physical discomfort or other symptoms of illness. And several times she referred to his foggy/blurry memory, as if it happened due to a ragweed allergy.

The truth is Stephen Ray is a very likable witness. Soft spoken, in shape, doesn’t seem like he would hurt a fly. He takes care of himself and seemed like the kind of reflective person than could have benefitted by the teachings of a responsible mentor.

Today he has lost most of his sense of smell and taste. His memory sometimes suffers, as the defense has ironically used in its favor.

This prosecution witness has enabled the defense to score points in its several hours-long cross examination. As with all other witnesses, defense attorneys showed him the waiver that he had signed upon his arrival at Angel Valley. The fact that waivers do not apply in criminal situations – and that the only 3 waivers in question in this case are those of Kirby and James Shore (and if Liz Neuman signed one at all) – is never mentioned to the jury, at least not yet.

The defense keeps going back to the “poison theory”; in Stephen Ray’s testimony they cited two doctors reports that said he appeared to be a victim of poisons and not heat stroke. But the other 298 pages of his medical record were not presented as evidence. Li, in his opening, mentioned that the tarps were stored in a shed that contained rat poison.  That hearsay statement is not yet in evidence, yet hints of poisoning are sprinkled in throughout.

That’s where reasonable doubt comes in.

So the prosecution needed to score some points that the defense claimed this morning. Sheila Polk and Bill Hughes, the prosecutors, also have to try a case within a case, that these people died, and were injured, from something other than poison or other theories that pop up during the trial.

Only members of the jury know whether anyone “scored points” today. But in three months, when the jury convenes, will they even remember the subtleties of law or the highlights of anyone’s testimony.

Later in the day, Lou Caci was called to the stand as a prosecution witness. Again, I found myself thankful that Lou was well dressed, articulate and composed. In my mind, it’s helpful that participants were strong, successful, ambitious people.  But I don’t know if it’s helpful to the case, or to my cousin’s legacy. I do not want her remembered as a cult member; a freak who shaved her head (she cut it short, not bald). So personally I’m glad to see well-spoken, well-dressed people take the stand.

Lou’s testimony was difficult to hear. Liz Neuman’s death reminded him of the death of his brother and father (who died of cancer, according to his testimony) due to the way she was breathing in the lodge. He questioned why he returned to the sweat lodge after burning his forearm about halfway through. He wondered on the stand why he didn’t say anything about Liz’s struggles.

The prosecution is trying to get testimony included that James Ray was close enough to hear of Liz’s struggles; that testimony continues tomorrow.

But for tonight, I’m reminded that death and loss (of lives and long friendships) are all over this case. No matter what happens in this trial, Lou Caci will always wonder why he returned to the tent and then why he didn’t get Liz help sooner.

This trial — this Spiritual Warrior event — contains a lot of loss and pain. I hope the truth set us all free of that. But sometimes I doubt it will

James Ray Trial Blog, Day 9: All’s Fair in Love and War

All is fair in love and war. That’s what they say anyway.

But it still makes it hard to watch James Ray’s defense team cross-exam Dr. Beverley Bunn – the only Spiritual Warrior member to attend Kirby’s funeral or to ever make the trip to upstate New York to hug her parents.

Defense attorney Thomas Kelly was condescending, simplistic and insulting – all the things you would probably want in your lawyer if you were facing 30+ years in prison.

He needlessly asked her about her personal intentions for attending the event (dealing with relationships), suggested for a 2nd time that she receive counseling following the sweat lodge and put her on the spot, asking if she – a medical doctor – offered help to Kirby, James or Liz in the sweat lodge. (She did not, not knowing the conditions of those affected in the pitch black tent. She did attempt to do CPR on Kirby and James after the lodge, but was held back by one of James Ray’s team)

Her distaste for Ray was palpable. Commentators on TV counted it as a negative, but so far she’s the witness who seemed closest to any of the participants. Bunn, Kirby’s roommate during the week, became close to Kirby over 5 days.  (For many people it only took 5 minutes. Some of those who cried the hardest after hearing of her death were those who met her only once.)

Beverley bravely stood her ground, often clarifying fine points for Kelly (Ray chose to work with her, she didn’t choose him, for example). She did not give the defense and inch, often answering that she could not answer a question (most of which she clarified for the prosecution on redirect).

Her discussion on Friday about the one person who skipped the “optional” yoga class resulted in an audio clip of Ray chiding that woman, saying she wasn’t playing “full-on” and that “if you’re half-assed here, you’ll be half-assed in life.”  She helped paint the picture that you did what Mr. Ray told you  and you assumed you’d be safe the whole time.

Bunn was followed by Stephen Ray (no relation to James Ray). Ray was a pleasant, credible man who had been to a number of James Ray events, but never to Spiritual Warrior or the sweat lodge. He listened to audio clips of both James Shore and James Ray.

Mr. Shore sounded strong, a man of strong faith, talked about his family being “the jewels of my life” and living honorably. Although Sheila Polk had played an audio clip of Kirby previously in the trial, it was difficult to hear James Shore’s voice. A hero in my book, he helped to drag one woman out of the lodge and returned to his place to help Kirby. The two, who had grown close during the week, died holding hands.

One of the James Ray clips played for Stephen Ray dealt with pushing your limits. And how honor comes from pushing through, even when things are uncomfortable. Stephen Ray had been to one sweat lodge previously. Admittedly he left quickly because it was uncomfortable. This time, though, he pushed through, trusting James Ray that he would learn from it, perhaps looking for a breakthrough.

Instead he powered through a few rounds. He did decide to leave – in the middle of a round. But before he made it to the door, he passed out. He woke up in the hospital a day or two later. He sustained long-term and permanent injuries.

All of this testimony made me pause and wonder what went through Kirby’s head. Did she feel like she was going to die? Did her early death in the Samurai game influence her decision to play full-on in the sweat lodge? Did James Ray’s encouragement-bordering-on-bullying of others convince her to stay one more round – that last round of her consciousness.

James Ray Trial Blog: Opening Statements

It was a moment I dreaded.

The first day of the James Arthur Ray manslaughter trial, in which he stands accused of the deaths of my cousin Kirby Brown, along with James Shore and Liz Neuman, two other seekers of leadership and self-improvement. We knew it was coming. It’s been longer than we hoped filled with one official delay, and hundreds of days of waiting.

I wondered what it would be like to be in the same room with the man who so callously treated those who paid a generous amount of money to follow him. I wondered what he thought about the loss of Kirby and James and Liz, the void it has created in our physical world where fear and loss and grieving are real emotions. He is fond of saying “Energy Flows Where Attention Goes” but even with a dozen journalists in the courtroom, he exuded little to no energy. At least to me, but I may not be like-minded enough to receive those vibrations.

I looked around the courtroom on the afternoon of March 1, 2011. The opening statements of the trial began around 1:30. I saw five lawyers with Mr. Ray; two on our side, the people’s side. I saw a panel of 18 regular people on the jury – people who needed to reserve four months to serve their civil duty to decide if the man who preached responsibility would be made responsible for what happened in his so-called sweat lodge. I saw curious journalists poised for the next detail or sound bite. I saw Mr. Ray’s parents, whom he has criticized in his own writings and performances, for not chasing wealth and therefore living incompletely.  And in the row in front of me, I saw Liz’s cousin, James Shore’s mother and sister, and I saw my own wonderful relatives – Kirby’s brother Bobby and her parents, Ginny and George Brown.
What isn’t known about Kirby’s parents is that they are the ones doing the kind of work Mr. Ray purported to exceed at. Ginny is a teacher, public speaker and social worker – teaching anger management, family and sexuality within church and the community. George (who could insist on being called Dr. Brown but prefers his grandchildren’s ‘Papa G’ label) counseled 9/11 firefighters until the funding was pulled. A brilliant psychologist, Papa G is a quiet man, but he sees, hears, and processes everything. When he speaks, he says in 3 sentences what you tried to say in 20 minutes; his words are the by-product of five sharp senses and a brilliant mind that tied them all together.

And today, on March 1, 2011, he does not get to speak – just to observe. He must sit there and watch the man he believes killed his oldest child sit expressionless at a plain state-issued table at which the defense team sits. He holds Ginny’s hand most of the time, their minds and hearts connected by an unspeakable grief that most people, fortunately, don’t ever experience. A few seats away, James Shore’s mother shares some version of those feelings – also the member of this small, exclusive, senseless club. Parents who have buried children.

Opening statements are not concluded today. Prosecutor Sheila Polk calmly – almost too calmly – chronologically brings the jury through the events of the entire Spiritual Warrior event, a five-day retreat designed to push your limits. She shows little emotion or passion, which can worry those on her side, I suspect, but she has a good reputation for convictions. Style points aside, I think the big picture is more important here.

She does rely on a number of startling clips of Mr. Ray himself, mostly lectures, instructions, and other teachings from throughout the week. I was not prepared to hear these tapes – which were ruled admissible only a day or two ago by judge Warren Darrow – within the opening statement. They were chilling in general but the most disturbing clip was one in which he instructs the students that in the sweat lodge they will feel like they are going to die, but will not. That they look death in the eye but live to tell about it. That even if their physical bodies don’t die, they live on.

It was one thing to read his tweet from that fateful day, that in order for something to be born, another thing must die – but I chalked that up to irony of language. This constant talk of death and rebirth and of games in which Mr. Ray assumes the role of God – all of that gives me a feeling in my stomach that this all was truly senseless.
The defense tended to argue a lot in it’s opening: that the state did not test possible other causes, that they looked in only one direction (to charge Mr. Ray of course), and Los Angeles lawyer Luis Li tried to be a peer to a jury of mostly middle aged Arizona residents. He put the spotlight on rat poison in the shed where the lodge’s tarps were kept; he wondered about the lodging and what materials were in those rooms, and Li muttered something about Legionaire’s Disease.
When he talked about the God game, he talked about it being just another “corporate seminar;” when he talked about the multiple altered states into which Mr.  Ray attempted to place his students, he likened it to “getting dizzy.” He even suggested that “falling in love” was an altered state.

Afterwards, I told the media that his argument blamed everyone but the bed bugs for these three deaths and that his version of events was “insulting.”  When you boast about your lodge being the hottest, and then 3 people die (2 of whom succumbed to heat stroke), blaming rat poison and suggesting that adults can choose for themselves is just that: insulting.
The participants were sleep deprived: Mr. Ray suggested that they could sleep “next week.” I remember my college days. If I pulled an all-nighter, I might get my paper completed, or retain enough information to get a passing grade on an exam. But all my activities the next day were compromised. I was less than 100 percent, and certainly wasn’t giving my full attention to anything.
So how can 50 people who were discouraged from sleeping after 17 hour days climb into a sweat lodge and make a rational decision? Deprived of food and water for 36 hours prior, they were told they would feel like they would die, and that they might pass out or be disoriented. But that was part of the experience. They would be okay, their leader assured them.
Beyond the three deaths, I can’t help feeling there were 50+ victims in this story. Everyone got packed in that tent; those who worked outside of it; those who happened upon the scene in its aftermath – they are all victims. Even Mr. Ray is a victim; a victim of his own hubris, a victim of his pride, a victim of a false sense of power and godliness.

No matter how this trial turns out, he has to live with the fact that three people died and dozens of others are scarred – physically and emotionally. And he could have prevented it. But he pushed.
And this very effective motivational speaker has been motivated to be silent; to sit at a plain defense table expressionless. To listen to his lawyers attempt to confuse a jury of ordinary people that Mr. Ray’s understanding of the Laws of the Universe did not violate the Laws of the State of Arizona.
It won’t be an easy trial, for anyone. But the lines are drawn. And there is no getting around the fact that it is very, very sad.

Trial Blog Day 8: Beverley Bunn’s Emotional Testimony

From the moment my Aunt Ginny called me the morning of Oct. 9, 2009, the story of the death of my cousin, Kirby Brown, has been surreal. But within an hour of receiving that call and doing a couple of Google searches on the deaths and James Ray, I knew it would quickly become a media circus.

I won’t claim to have x-ray vision 15 months into the future, but within days we had to prepare for an arrest, and a prolonged legal battle. So when March 1, 2011 finally rolled around – the beginning of the James Ray criminal trial for the death of Kirby and two others – it was a moment we had been anticipating.

As difficult as it was to face Mr. Ray in court during that first week – as myself, Kirby’s parents and members of the two other families did – we had somewhat prepared for that. When Beverley Bunn took the stand on Friday, it was a moment that shook me somewhat, for many reasons.

Beverley, an orthodontist from Texas, was the only participant of the Spiritual Warrior event who attended Kirby’s funeral. I remember when she was introduced to me in the parking lot outside of the church. Because I had been the spokesperson for Kirby’s immediate family, I was the recognizable face for her. When she was introduced to me by a friend of hers, I immediately hugged her, thanked her for coming and asked how she was. I will always admire her courage, her devotion to my cousin, and her strength for standing up and doing what was right.

So watching her on the stand, on live television from my couch at home I felt proud, scared, anxious, helpless, and protective. But as her testimony unfolded, I realized she needed no protection. She was strong, brave, and – most importantly for the case – had tremendous memory of the details of the sweat lodge and the entire event.

Because of her recall and memory she was able to offer evidence such as:
• Ray was harsh and callous to his students: When she told him on the fourth day of the six day event that she would cut her hair he said. “I don’t give a fuck what you do. Shave your head, don’t shave your head.”
• Despite the defense claim that participants had freedom of choice, Beverley made it clear that “things were not optional” and that you didn’t take on Mr. Ray.
• There was no medical staff on site, nor were there proper first aid kits (Tupperware container with Band-Aids and gauze)
• In addition to the deaths, serious injuries did occur
• A man who needed to use the bathroom was told by Mr. Ray to relieve himself inside the tent, where people were also vomiting and passing out.
• Following the sweat lodge, Mr. Ray and two of his top staffers – Josh and Megan Fredrickson – stood around, never assisting anyone.
• The events of the week, particularly the sweat lodge, were kept secret to participants, unless they haven’t to read the small print of the waivers.
• Where several people were sitting in the lodge and their positions outside in the chaotic aftermath.
• That she was prevented from attempting CPR on Kirby and James Shore.
• A clear, chronological timeline of the entire week’s events.

Beverley also helped change the face of the Spiritual Warrior participants. Here is a smart, savvy, successful woman, with multiple educational degrees, and who has owned her own orthodontics practice. The TV pundits have said after her testimony that this was not a “James Jones” situation, a classic cult/death incident in our history.

Hopefully that leaves the door open for people to ask about a leader’s influence, mind control and what behaviors, words and actions allow for smart, reasonable people to follow another into danger. A larger view of the week’s events, and the extreme use of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), will be necessary in this trial to convince the jury – and perhaps the public at large – that these adults were stripped of their ability to make rational choices.

It has been notable to me that Beverley, as was Kirby, was allowed to participate in Spiritual Warrior when typically attendees had to “graduate” to this pinnacle event. Many of those who attended – and many of those still firmly in James Ray’s camp – had attended several events, often across several years.  So, to me, the influence that Ray had over his followers began long before they ever arrived in Sedona. Those who were not fully conditioned through all of his events, were more cynical of his role in this tragedy when two people died that day (Liz Neuman died more than a week later).

I’m grateful that Beverley got to know Kirby; I’m grateful that she came forward almost immediately, first to be with my family, and then to tell the truth in the media; I’m grateful she remembers  important details; and I’m grateful for her strength and courage.

Her testimony continues tomorrow and my thoughts will continue to be with her and, as always, with our beloved Kirby.