Self-help entrepreneur James Arthur Ray's defense attorneys wrapped up their six-hour final argument in his sweat-lodge manslaughter trial Friday, systematically walking jurors through the state's investigation and witnesses to argue that reasonable doubts remain that Ray is to blame.
"This was an accident," said Luis Li, Ray's lead attorney, pounding his hands on the rail separating him from the jurors. "But this was not a crime."
Li pounded away at prosecutors, too, saying they failed to adequately investigate clues that an unknown toxicant, such as organophosphates, chemicals found in pesticides, could have helped cause the three deaths in October 2009. Li said such problems as the state's failure to test blood samples until a year later, when it was too late to get useful results, made it impossible to rule out that cause. He also said jurors should be skeptical of some state witnesses, especially Michael and Amayra Hamilton, the owners of Angel Valley resort where Ray held the sweat-lodge ceremony, and who said they rarely used pesticides. He suggested their testimony might be colored by civil suits they face in the deaths.
"The government repeatedly ignored the possibility toxins were involved. They didn't look for them, and they didn't care," Li told jurors. Comparing prosecutors to everything from Communist commissars to fighter pilots crashing their jet into an aircraft carrier because they weren't careful enough, Li repeatedly exhorted jurors that it was up to them to hold the government to the highest standard.
Li also insisted that there wasn't sufficient clinical evidence to be sure that heatstroke caused the deaths; and he argued that even if, as the state maintained, heat was the cause, Ray could not have foreseen the deaths of Kirby Brown, 39; James Shore, 40; and Liz Neuman, 49. "There were 55 reasonable people inside that sweat lodge, and they didn't know" any of the three were dying, he said. Li argued that failure by anyone to realize what was happening shows that Ray couldn't be expected to recognize that there was an unjustifiable risk of death.
To convict Ray of manslaughter, jurors must find that his actions caused the deaths; that he was aware - or that a reasonable person should have been aware - that his actions posed a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death; and that he consciously disregarded that risk. To convict Ray of negligent homicide, which is included as an alternate lesser charge, jurors must find that he caused the deaths and that he failed to recognize, rather than consciously disregarded, that same risk of death.
In her closing argument Thursday, Sheila Polk, Yavapai County prosecutor, told jurors that common sense and the evidence point to searing heat and high humidity, not unknown toxicants, as the cause of death. Ray's conduct in running an excessively long "heat-endurance challenge," as Polk called it, and in ignoring the clear signs that people were passing out and having serious problems, make him responsible for the deaths, she said.
The prosecution will offer its rebuttal argument on Tuesday, allowing the jury to begin deliberations.
By Bob Ortega, The Arizona Republic
Source: The Arizona Republic