CAMP VERDE, Ariz. —A self-help guru was found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide Wednesday in a case that shined a spotlight on a deadly Arizona sweat lodge ceremony that ended in chaos, with participants vomiting, shaking and being dragged outside.
Jurors reached their verdict with remarkable swiftness: They took less than 10 hours to convict James Arthur Ray following a four-month trial that included hundreds of exhibits and countless hours of testimony.
The eight men and four women were given the option of convicting Ray of manslaughter but decided on the lesser charge instead. He faces a sentence ranging from probation to nearly 12 years in prison.
Ray fought back emotion as the verdict was read. His parents and brother sat behind him, while victims' friends and family members held hands and looked on from across the courtroom.
More than 50 people participated in the October 2009 sweat lodge that was meant to be the highlight of Ray's five-day "Spiritual Warrior" seminar near Sedona.
Three people died following the sauna-like ceremony aimed at providing spiritual cleansing. Eighteen people were hospitalized, while several others were given water to cool down at the scene.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed over whether the deaths and illnesses were caused by heat or unknown toxins. Ray's attorneys have maintained they were a tragic accident. Prosecutors argued Ray recklessly caused the fatalities.
Ray used the sweat lodge as a way for participants to break through whatever was holding them back in life. He warned participants in a recording of the event played during the trial that the sweat lodge would be "hellacious" and that participants were guaranteed to feel like they were dying but would do so only metaphorically.
"The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you'll ever experience is the fear of what? Death," Ray said in the recording. "You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it's OK to die."
Witnesses have described the scene following the two-hour sweat lodge ceremony as alarming and chaotic, with people vomiting and shaking violently, while others dragged "lifeless" and "barely breathing" participants outside. Volunteers performed CPR.
Ray quickly left the courtroom with his family after the hearing, saying "No, not at this time" when asked if he had any comment.