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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

James Ray Case Moves: What's Tomorrow

The James Arthur Ray trial is scheduled for a short hearing tomorrow (Sep 14). There has been constant bickering throughout the summer (anybody surprised?) about what comes next and how and how many and when. Tomorrow's hearing is supposed to smooth out the wrinkles so everybody shows up on time and on task in the near future. The points of bickering are:

 Vintage Prescott Rodeo bull riding

a) should the mitigation hearing proceed next week considering the parties are still waiting on Judge Darrow's ruling on whether there will be a new trial?

b) should there be a reschedule based on the additional concerns of coordinating witness's travel plans and accusations and counter accusations between defense and prosecution about who is cooperating with timely disclosure and other procedures so the other side can be prepared?

A mitigation hearing is all about proving James Ray should not be given a tough sentence. For the only time in the trial, the burden of proof is on the defense.  That's currently scheduled for several days next week. After that comes actual sentencing. The current date for sentencing is Sep 26.

One thing we do know is that all this will take place in a different venue than you are used to seeing: the town of Camp Verde is one player that has been definitely taken off the field. This was strictly an administrative decision having to do solely with housekeeping issues of doing criminal justice in sparsely populated Yavapai County. 

Prescott is not far from Camp Verde and has a western frontier flare all its own, having been established in the middle of the Civil War. It served as Arizona's first capitol when the region was named a territory. It still boasts the country's longest continuously operating rodeo. Hey, I'm just quoting them, don't make me prove that. I've attended several times and it is loads of fun. That photo above is vintage Prescott Rodeo.

However, apparently in the early part of the 20th century, as the cowboy life was disappearing all over America, the Prescott Rodeo felt the insidious threat of extinction. A group of vigorous community characters got together and invented the "Smoki tribe." That's pronounced "smoke-eye." They put together elaborate performances, including a scary snake dance, that became an instant hit at the rodeo in 1921. The audience and the revenue came back.

For a history of the Prescott Smokis in Arizona, google a bit. It's pretty interesting and definitely colorful. Iconic statesman Barry Goldwater was a member and many other Arizona power brokers. As you can imagine, rumors and suspicions dogged the group in later years. Ultimately, the Hopi tribe--real Indians who needed no makeup nor fictional folklore (invented by local historian Sharlot Hall) nor mocked up initiation rites--put an end to the performances forever. But for most of the 20th century, the Smoki performances were considered roaring good fun for generations of Arizonans. 

Pioneer Sharlot Hall was one of the West's earliest professional historians. She used her skills to invent a backstory for the Smoki tribe--really a group of Caucasian community leaders,
Sharlot Hall

No introduction of Prescott would be complete without a mention of fiery and witty former U.S. Congressman Sam Steiger. Sam, who still lives in Prescott, embodied the can-do man-of-action legacy of the West when, under cover of moonlight, he grabbed cans of white paint and hand brushed on a crosswalk in downtown Prescott between Whiskey Row (yeah, a bunch of cowboy watering holes lined up together) and the historic Prescott Courthouse in the middle of the square. Sam wanted the crosswalk and no tenderfoot City Council was gonna stand in his way. 

So to sum up, the difference between Camp Verde and Prescott is roughly 40 miles; Prescott is much bigger but still small; Prescott was a territorial capitol while Camp Verde was an Army camp (Civil War era); both had loads of sad history with Indian tribes but Camp Verde in the 20th century became known for preserving ruins while Prescott wrangled with a major breach of etiquette with the Hopi Tribe; and most pertinent to James Arthur Ray, Camp Verde's luxurious courthouse is brand spanking new while Prescott's is historic, charming but much less comfortable. No tigers, though, at the Prescott courthouse. It's actually surrounded by town, not safari land.  (see this post for context & photos on that last remark)

It's interesting to think about the final end of the Smokis, succumbing to the opposition of the Hopis who felt their ceremonies and traditions were being bastardized for offensive commercial uses. Many tribes today feel the same way about James Arthur Ray's adaptation of the sweat lodge rite. The Smokis adopted a good neighbor policy, stopped the performances and converted their creative contribution to a museum. That bit of enlightenment came over 20 years ago. And, as far as I know, no one ever died at a Smoki event.  

Tomorrow I'll let you know what happens in the James Arthur Ray hearing. Thanks for visiting.


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