Prosecutor Sheila Polk’s turn in front of the sweat lodge jury today. She went through many of the points that defense attorney Luis Li had brought up, but she pointedly skipped others. “I never thought I would have to defend that I’m a working County Attorney,” she shook her head softly, “I’ll leave that alone.”
She listed on a poster three theories of death:
After pointing out that none of the doctors who suggested organo-phosphates may have been involved in the deaths of Kirby Brown, Liz Neuman and James Shore had any clinical experience, either with living patients or in autopsy, with organo-phosphate poisoning: that the doctor who strongly ruled them out had considerable clinical experience with it (and with heat stroke); and that organo-phosphate poisoning requires “copious flow from every orifice--the victims drown in their own spit, often making resuscitation impossible,” Sheila Polk crossed off “O.P.” from her list.
Not only was there a lot of testimony against the rat poison theory, she continued, but rat poison requires the victims to bleed to death. Nobody in the sweat lodge bled to death. She crossed it off the list.
She said to find for these or any other theory, you have to ignore what is “right in front of everyone’s eyes--people were recklessly subjected to extreme heat for two hours.” She pointed out that the same site, the same wood, the same rocks and the same tarps and blankets had been used over and over and over again at Angel Valley for various sweat lodges but that no one ever died or even got sick. “Only when Mr. Ray is conducting the sweat lodge do people get sick,” she said, “It is the extreme way he does it that makes people sick.”
That last one is an interesting point because there are several Native Americans attending the trial. The lady sitting next to me told me she was from the Dine’h tribe. She was here, she said, “because we have to take a stand--this is our religion.” I look forward to hearing more from them. Later, Sheila Polk referred to James Ray’s event as a “bogus sweat lodge” and my bench companion seemed to approve of the remark.
James Ray used more rocks, went twice as many rounds and, while others “gently ladle the water over the rocks, Mr. Ray--” Here Polk was interrupted by Luis Li, for the 6th time that morning. Sidebar. These closings are remarkable for length AND contentiousness.
"It's what he wanted--extreme altered states."
“This case is about a man who marketed himself as an expert, charged $10 thousand dollars (without room and board) and then 3 people in his charge died.”
Her main theme was that James Ray, sitting in the cool while dozens of people around him were in “chaos, carnage and mass suicide” was never alarmed for the unconscious, unbreathing people littered at his feet because “everything that was happening was exactly what he expected and wanted to have happen. This was the ‘extreme altered mental state’ for which they had paid ten grand and he needed to deliver. But that altered mental state is exactly the hallmark of heat stroke.” He didn’t plan for them to die, she said, but he did deliberately bring them to the brink of what is a fatal condition. And that, she said, is the very definition of reckless manslaughter.
She closed with a litany of moments when James Arthur Ray could have stopped the sweat lodge, administered aid, called 911 or even just checked on somebody before declaring “they’re ok” or “leave them alone.” The list was pretty long, over the course of two hours. After each incident, she asked, if he had changed his conduct at that moment, would we be here now?
Mr. Li had criticized her for putting up the photos of Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore. She defiantly put them right back up. “I’m reminding you why we’re here,” she said, as their loved ones sniffled in the front row. “They trusted that for $10 thousand dollars he knew what he was doing. He told them to trust him, to ignore their own instincts to survive as their bodies shut down from the incredibly reckless heat challenge he created for them.”
The jury, about half men and half women, all white, all middle-aged or more, was soon escorted out to begin deliberations.
If convicted of reckless manslaughter, the maximum sentence is 37 years. The lesser charge of negligent homicide is about a third of the time. Or, if acquitted, he walks out the front door, free to plan another sweat lodge and recruit more seekers of a higher truth.
*(organo-phosphates from residual pesticides)