US & Canada

James Ray jailed for Arizona sweat lodge deaths

James Arthur Ray, left, and his attorney, Thomas Kelly, right
Image caption Ray, left, had argued the deaths were a tragic accident, but the jury disagreed

A self-help author is facing two years in prison for the deaths of three people at an Arizona "sweat lodge".

James Ray was convicted in June of negligent homicide and will serve three sentences concurrently.

The deaths occurred at the Angel Valley Retreat Center, 115 miles (180km) north of Phoenix, in October 2009.

Ray said at the hearing he would have stopped the ceremony if he knew people were in distress. He accepted blame for causing pain to the victims' families.

The families of the three victims - Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman - had pleaded for the maximum nine-year sentence.

Plea for forgiveness

Ray has been given three two-year sentences, to be served concurrently, and will pay more than $57,000 (£36,000) in restitution.

He begged for forgiveness and asked the judge to grant him probation in order to care for his ailing parents and put his life back together - a request that the judge denied.

"At the end of the day, I lost three friends, and I lost them on my watch. Whatever errors in judgment or mistakes I have made, I'm going to have to live with those for the rest of my life.

"I truly understand your disappointment in my actions after, I do. I'm disappointed in myself. I don't have any excuse," Ray told the court.

Authorities took custody of Ray immediately after the hearing finished, although his parents and brother - who were with him at court - said they hoped they would have a chance to see him afterwards.

Ray's defence lawyer Luis Li said his client would probably appeal, but added: "We just hope the process of healing can begin and the victims' families can find some peace."

'Spiritual warrior'

Sweat lodges are typically used by American Indians to rid the body of toxins by pouring water over heated rocks in the structure.

Emergency services were called to the sweat lodge after some of the 50 people at the event reported they were having difficulty breathing.

Two people fainted during the ceremony and died later the same evening. A third participant died a week later after failing to wake up from a coma.

Eighteen people were taken to hospital reportedly suffering from illnesses ranging from dehydration to kidney failure.

Prosecutors said a reasonable person would have stopped the "abomination of a sweat lodge" when participants began showing signs of distress about halfway through the ceremony.

Ray, who has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live, had rented the centre for his five-day "Spiritual Warrior" event.

Reports said some of the participants had paid up to $9,000 for their stay at the retreat, which also reportedly included a 36-hour fast.

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