James Arthur Ray, a best-selling author and the chief executive officer of James Ray International, was charged on Feb. 4 with three charges of manslaughter, including one of Geneseo alumna Kirby Brown.
38-year-old Brown, class of 1993, died Oct. 8 in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Ariz. during a retreat in which Ray's organization predicated the deaths of three people. An enthusiastic hiker and surfer from Westtown, N.Y., Brown was reported to be "in top shape" by family spokesperson Tom McFeeley when she departed New York for the five-day Spiritual Warrior retreat orchestrated by Ray's company.
Once used by American Indians, sweat lodges are traditionally made of natural materials that allow air to permeate the walls of the building. The sweat lodge used at the retreat, however, allegedly blocked airflow and was overfilled with between 55 and 65 people crowded into 415 square feet of space. Participants were apparently encouraged to test their physical and spiritual limits by fasting for 36 hours and remaining in the lodge for two hours, although no one was forced to stay in the building against his or her will. The cost of the retreat was about $9,000 per person.
The Spiritual Warrior retreat was one of many organized by Ray, who bills himself as a personal success strategist. According to his Web site, Ray's programs promise "harmonic wealth in all areas of your life."
Ray pleaded not guilty to all charges. Bail is set at $5 million, and if convicted, Ray could face up to 12 and a half years for each count.
Additionally, Ray has been confronted with two civil lawsuits each alleging fraud and negligence on his part. Some participants from the ceremony have alleged that Ray ignored signs of suffering displayed by those in the lodge.
Ray's lawyer, Luis Li, maintains his client's innocence. "This was a terrible accident - but it was an accident, not a criminal act," Li said.