Testimony heard in sweat lodge death trial

March 3, 2011 at 4:42 PM
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PHOENIX, March 3 (UPI) -- A witness in the Arizona manslaughter trial in the deaths of three people in a sweat lodge ceremony says her cries that they needed help were ignored.

Melissa Phillips, 43, of Toronto came to Sedona, Ariz., as a participant in a five-day seminar called the Spiritual Warrior led by best-selling author and New Age motivational speaker James Arthur Ray.

She testified she was ignored in the super-size sweat lodge ceremony at the seminar's finale when she told Ray and others that some of the participants could not breathe, The Arizona Republic reported.

Ray, 53, is on trial Yavapai County Superior Court and could spend 30 years in prison if convicted of the manslaughter charges.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk argued Ray was controlling and led his followers to their deaths by not acknowledging the dangers of heat exposure and by not putting a stop to the sweat lodge when participants went into distress.

Medical examiners said Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Minnesota, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin died of heat stroke or organ failure caused by heat exposure.

Phillips testified 57 people filed into the sweat lodge where they sat shoulder to shoulder for 2-1/2 hours.

Ray, Phillips said, "told us that we would feel like we were going to die, but we wouldn't."

"People were throwing up. People were moaning. People were asking for help. People couldn't breathe," she testified.

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