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Trial begins in sweat lodge deaths

CAMP VERDE, Ariz., March 1 (UPI) -- An Arizona judge hasn't decided whether participants from earlier seminars will be allowed to testify at the trial of self-help guru James Arthur Ray.

The New Age gospel preacher is on trial for manslaughter in the deaths of three participants following a sweat-lodge exercise in Oct. 2009, The Arizona Republic reported.

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Opening statements were set to begin Tuesday.

If convicted, Ray, 53, faces four to 10 years in prison on each of three counts of manslaughter.

The victims, identified as Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Minnesota, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died of heat stroke or organ failure during the sweat-lodge ceremony in 2009.

Before entering the sweat lodge, seminar participants spent 36 hours alone in the wild without food or water and without leaving a 6-foot circle drawn in the dirt, court documents indicate.

The case has drawn worldwide attention because of Ray's fame as a motivational guru.

His rituals combined mysticism and enlightenment that he said physically took people into altered states and provided what Ray termed "threshold experiences."

Followers paid large fees, some in excess of $9,000, to participate.

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The trial is expected to last four months with more than 70 witnesses set to testify.

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