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Friday, July 1, 2011

How Can He Do That? (Judge throws out aggravator)

At James Ray's sweat lodge trial in Camp Verde, jurors deliberated more vigorously on the state's "aggravators" than they did on guilt. While the "emotional harm" aggravator was a slam dunk, jurors deadlocked on the the "pecuniary gain" aggravator and on the "unique position of trust" aggravator.

That is, except for victim Liz Neuman. Liz Neuman had been associated with the James Ray International organization for a few years and even earned commissions on JRI events she organized in her home state of Minnesota. For Liz, jurors unanimously agreed the "unique position of trust" aggravator did, in fact, apply.

However, Yavapai County judge Warren Darrow decided to toss that second aggravator anyway. I was not in court to hear him explain his reasoning (technical difficulties!) so I wanted more insight on how a jury finding could be thrown out. I thought you would, too.

I asked renowned defense attorney Michael Kimerer for help. Keep in mind, he wasn't in court to hear Darrow's reasoning, either. But, as a matter of law, well, no one knows his stuff better than Kimerer.

"The aggravating factors that can be used to enhance a sentence are those enumerated in A.R.S. 13-701D," Kimerer told me via email.
"Violating a 'unique position of trust' is not one of the enumerated aggravating factors, but under paragraph 24 of that section the state can introduce any other evidence they think is relevant regarding the defendant's character or background or the nature or circumstances of the scene."
So I guess the key thing there is any other evidence "they think" is relevant. In other words, the prosecution can try, but as the referee, the judge can still intervene. When they go off the prescribed list Kimerer cites, they are taking risks.

Kimerer goes on to postulate (remember, he wasn't there, either) that after listening to everything, the judge "determined those facts were not sufficient or relevant enough as a matter of law to support the jury's finding."

So it boils down to the law books. Things may look a lot simpler to those of us in the courtroom focused on the case at hand. But to the judge, there are many, many more layers.

Because of the way this aggravation phase turned out, "The Secret" philosopher is no longer facing 11 years in prison. The maximum Ray could get would be about 9 years. He could also get none. Without enough aggravators, he is still eligible for probation.

I hope this helps you as you follow the sweat lodge trial of James Ray.

The case now moves into the "mitigation" phase, the opposite of aggravation. The jury has been released. Judge Darrow alone decides on the mitigators, which are presented by the defense.

Sentencing has been set for July 25.

ARS=Arizona Revised Statutes

A very great thanks go out to Michael Kimerer for his help in this confusing moment in this trial.

ADD: Sentencing dates info? See this post.


  1. I read your books and I am a BIG fan. This is the first time I've read your Blog but it will not be the last. Thanks for the explanation about aggravating factors and sentencing.

    You saved me a lot of aggravation trying to figure it out by myself.

    I look forward to your Blog posts doing exactly that for me in the future, helping me figure out the tremendous and sometimes complicated judicial system. I am VERY glad I found you. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thank you for your kind thoughts. I'm so glad you found me! And, nice pun!

    I hope you will come back often. I'll keep getting interesting visitors to contribute because I know there is so much to wrap your head around when it comes to these trials. We all need a little help!