James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial Begins

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Opening arguments are expected to commence today, March 1, for the trial of James Arthur Ray, the controversial spiritual leader who faces charges of manslaughter after three sweat lodge participants died in the October 8, 2009 ceremony in Sedona, Arizona, reported ABC.

The 53-year-old "self-help guru" is charged in his Yavapai County Superior Court trial on three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, James Shore, 40, and Liz Neuman, 49. Brown and Shore spent nearly $10,000 to spend the week with Ray, and instead died in the lodge, reported ABC. Neuman remained alive in a coma for more than a week, passing away on Oct. 17, 2009. Eighteen other followers were injured during the October 8, 2009 ceremony.

According to one survivor Beverly Bunn, who spoke on "Good Morning America," sweat lodge participants at the October 8 ceremony were collapsing and vomiting. Ray did not physically force people to remain in the tent, but he urged them to stay inside and scolded them to overcome their weakness. Then as his followers laid dying or injured, Ray fled the scene, said Bunn, reported ABC on October 23, 2009.

In an unrelated lawsuit, less than a month following the incident, on November 2, Lakota Nation leaders filed a lawsuit in Phoenix, Arizona, against the United States, U.S. attorney general, Arizona governor, James Arthur Ray and Angel Valley Retreat Center, for the “desecration of our Sacred Oinikiga (onikare, sweat lodge) by causing the death of Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore," reported Sedona.biz. The lawsuit cites the Sioux Treaty of 1868 between the United States and the Lakota Nation, which states, "if bad men among the whites or other people subject to the authority of the United States shall commit any wrong upon the person or the property of the Indians, the United States will (...) proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained." The lawsuit sought for the treaty to be recognized and enforced, and did not seek monetary compensation, reported Sedona.biz.