Trial Begins In Ariz. Sweat Lodge Deaths

Carlsbad-Based James Ray Accused In 3 Sweat Lodge Deaths

The trial is under way in Arizona for a Carlsbad-based self-help guru accused of manslaughter in the deaths of three followers in a sweat lodge ceremony.

Authorities said James Arthur Ray lead followers in a Sedona, Ariz., sweat lodge ceremony in 2009 that left three people dead, and a local woman told 10News why she thinks Ray should be held accountable.

Liz Neuman was one of the three people who died during the spiritual retreat. Scripps Ranch residents Connie Joy and her husband, Richard, met Neuman two years prior at another ceremony.

"I feel I need to be there to represent her and support other friends who are going to testify," Joy said.

Joy and her husband met Ray in 2006. They were founding members of his World Wealth Society, which was based in Carlsbad.

Joy said Ray was charismatic but developed a messiah complex. She said she saw Ray push followers beyond their limits in sweat lodge ceremonies.

"In 2007, I saw numerous people passed out, lying on the ground, throwing up, shaking. At the end, one lady had to be carried out because she could not control her arms or legs," said Joy.

Joy said Ray kept the tents far hotter than any sauna and the ceremonies would go on for hours.

"I got out after the first round for awhile because it was extremely, ridiculously hot," said Joy.

Joy wrote the book, "Tragedy in Sedona," about Ray's rise and fall and the ill-fated sweat lodge incidents. While prosecutors have used the book as background, Joy said jurors won't know about other close calls.

"The defense has been able to exclude information about the previous events, including what happened at previous sweat lodges, never mind other events where people got hurt with James Ray," said Joy.

Beyond justice for her friend, Joy said she hopes the trial shines a bright light on a self-help industry she believes has run amuck and needs oversight.

"Self-help spiritual industry is now a $2 billion to $3 billion industry, and when you have something that grows that big, obviously you're going to start to have problems," said Joy.

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