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Wrongful Death?: Police Probe of Sweat Lodge Fatalities Becomes a Murder Investigation

Police say they are now treating their probe into the deaths of two people who attended a sweat lodge for two hours as a homicide investigation. 38-year-old Kirby Brown and 40-year-old James Shore died on Friday while attending a “Spiritual Warrior” program run by self-help expert James Arthur Ray at the Angel Valley Resort.

More than 50 people reportedly entered the makeshift lodge, which was a 415-square-foot space. 19 other participants sustained injuries during the ceremony, intended as a “spiritual awakening.” As of today, one person is still in the hospital in critical condition.

Yesterday, a search warrant was executed at James Ray International offices. Police are looking for any documents that may have provided instructions on properly constructing a proper sweat lodge. They also want to know whether participants were notified of the risks associated with participating in the ceremony. Authorities say they no longer believe the deaths were “accidental.”

Program participants each paid over $9,000 to attend the 5-day course. The Associated Press was able to obtain records indicating that in 2005, local fire officials arrived at Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” retreat to treat someone who fell unconscious during the sweat lodge.

Tom McFeeley, a spokesperson for the Brown family says that a transcript of a teleconference call this week facilitated by Ray with a number of the sweat lodge participants claims that the self-help expert is “controlling” participants and had engaged in their “physical and mental mistreatment.”

On Monday, Jack Judd, Yavapai County’s building safety manager, said there were no records to indicate that the sweat lodge constructed at the retreat center for Ray’s program had the required building permit or that anyone had applied for one.

Wrongful Death
Even if the person or entity responsible for your loved one’s death did not intend to inflict harm, the party may still be held liable in civil court for Massachusetts wrongful death if recklessness, carelessness, negligence, or inadequate supervision contributed to the fatality. A Boston injury claim, and its outcome, is separate from any criminal charges that prosecutors might decide to pursue.

Murder Probe in Sweat Lodge Deaths, CBS News, October 15, 2009
Sweat lodge deaths investigated as homicides, CNN, October 15, 2009
Ariz. sweat lodge lacked key permit, The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 13, 2009

Related Web Resources:
James Arthur Ray

Spiritual Warrior Program

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