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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Aggravation Phase at the Sweat Lodge Trial, Come Inside with Me

True Crime Author Camille Kimball at the Yavapai County Courthouse

This is the exact courtroom where James Arthur Ray, master of The Secret and Master of the Lodge, was convicted of three counts of negligent homicide. Second story, exactly where my finger is pointing.

I would say his demeanor has changed since his convictions. During the biggest part of the trial, where he hoped to be found Not Guilty, he usually had a sort of abstract look on his face. Part detachment, part confidence, almost like he was pretending he was some place else. During closing arguments when his attorney Luis Li was talking, he had a rather earnest looking expression, as Li tried to paint him as a victim of Big Bad Government.

But now he looks worried and anxious. He can be seen in urgent conference with his parents, perhaps making plans and arrangements for a difficult future.

One thing I never seen Ray do is pester his lawyers. Many homicide defendants, in my experience, frequently pass notes and whisper in the ear of their attorneys. You certainly see it in Casey Anthony right now. But sitting behind him in court, I don’t recall seeing Ray initiate any of these moments with his attorneys. He must be paying a fortune for the 4 member team, apparently he has confidence in them.

Before every court session, the bailiff delivers a remarkable lecture to those of us in the gallery, admonishing us not to react to testimony in any way. Her litany goes: no gasping, no sighing, no shaking of the head, no nodding, no clicking the tongue and on and on. That’s why you don’t see much response in court to some very gut-wrenching testimony.

We learned from Liz Neuman’s 27 year old daughter (25 at the time of the sweat lodge), Andrea, that she first learned what happened a full 24 hours after the sweat lodge. While she was in Minnesota, she got a phone call from a cousin in South Carolina who had seen the national news. Wasn’t Aunt Liz doing something with that James Ray guy?

Andrea immediately started googling and her alarm increased to full on panic. She started phoning hospitals in Flagstaff. When it finally occurred to her ask for “any Jane Does from the Oct 8 sweat lodge” instead of for “Liz Neuman,” she was transferred upstairs to a nurse standing near her comatose mother and this is how the doomed patient was identified.

All of the three sweat lodge victims, we learned, had spent at least 24 hours or more languishing in hospitals as Jane or John Does. The anguish this caused the families was palpable. James Ray, who had made approximately 1/2 a million dollars on the Spiritual Warrior event that week, flew out of Arizona within hours. Frankly, I would like to hear him say why he didn't go to the hospital and make sure everyone was identified.

Kirby main

Kirby Brown

Kirby Brown’s mother lives in New York. Kirby had lived in San Jose del Cabo on the Sea of Cortez. When Kirby’s remains finally were shipped back to New York, Virginia Brown had nothing to dress her in for her final rest. She asked, Mika Cutler (pictured below), to help.

Mika lives in southern Utah. She drove down to Sedona and retrieved Kirby’s belongings, everything she had packed for her grand adventure as a Spiritual Warrior with James Ray. Mika sent a box of Kirby’s clothes to New York but most poignant of all, she sent Kirby’s hair. James Ray had asked his “spiritual warriors” to shave their heads as some kind of rebirth ritual. Now Virginia keeps Kirby’s pony tail on her dresser where she sees it every day as soon as she wakes up.

photo by Camille Kimball

James Shore’s widow testified, too. That was grueling for everyone. More on that later. Right now, I will leave you with the image of the woman who packed up her dear friend’s hair and sent it to a heart stricken mother. I might also add that Mika Cutler during the ponytail testimony was softly rocking in her seat, her arms clutching her ribs, which, I defiantly report, is not on the bailiff's list of no-nos.

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