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Self-help guru moves to drop appeal of convictions

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A self-help author who served time in prison for the
deaths of three people following an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony he led has
moved to dismiss an appeal of his case.

James Arthur Ray made the request less than a week before the state Court of
Appeals was set to hear oral arguments that focused on jury instructions and the
conduct of prosecutors. Ray said he wants to avoid the possibility of a retrial
and resentencing but maintained that his convictions on three counts of
negligent homicide were flawed.

“I wish to ensure the prompt, complete and definitive termination of these
criminal proceedings by dismissing this appeal and allowing the conviction and
sentence to stand undisturbed,” he wrote in an affidavit released Thursday.

Ray was released from prison in July after serving nearly 2 years, but he’ll
remain on parole in Arizona until October _ about four years after he led dozens
of people in a sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona. Ray originally was charged with
manslaughter, but jurors rejected that he was reckless in his handling of the
2009 ceremony that highlighted Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event.

Neither prosecutors nor the families believed the sentence was sufficient for a
man they say ratcheted up the heat in the enclosed structure to dangerous
levels, ignored pleas for help and watched as participants were dragged out.
Ray’s attorneys suggested that toxins or poisons contributed to the deaths, but
jurors said that theory was not credible.

When the 2-hour ceremony was over, Kirby Brown, of Westtown, N.Y., and James
Shore, of Milwaukee, were dead. Liz Neuman, of Prior Lake, Minn., died nine days
later at a Flagstaff hospital.

Ray’s attorneys quickly appealed the convictions, calling into question
instructions that were and were not given to the jury and accusing prosecutors
in Yavapai County of misconduct. Some of those same arguments were made during
the trial, but the judge never approved mistrial motions.

The state Attorney General’s Office disputed the defense’s characterization of
the case in their response to the appeal. In a cross-appeal, the office argued
that jurors should have been told that Ray had a duty to aid participants in
distress and to avoid putting them at an unreasonable risk of harm.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow settled on the defense’s
suggestion that the only duty jurors could consider is whether Ray violated
manslaughter or negligent homicide statutes.

Ray has asked the appellate court to act on his request to dismiss his
challenge ahead of Wednesday’s oral arguments in Phoenix or postpone the
arguments. The state Attorney General’s Office says it will drop its
cross-appeal if Ray’s motion is granted. It disputed Ray’s statement that the
convictions were flawed.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, one of two prosecutors who presented the
case to a jury, said Thursday she is pleased that Ray is ending his bid to
overturn the convictions or secure a new trial. She said the move “gives the
victims finality” and confirms the convictions for the senseless deaths of
three people.

Brown’s cousin, Tom McFeeley, said the family has moved on to pursue voluntary
regulation of the self-help industry. He said he was hopeful Ray would live his
life the way he told others to _ with integrity and honesty.

“We know that the verdict was fair, especially in light of what was withheld
from the jury,” he said. “He’s lucky to get out quickly. He should count his
blessings and be thankful people are still willing to listen to what he has to
say.”

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