Jun 28, 2011

James Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Aggravating CNN

Despite their having the James Ray "aggravation stage" on their schedule all weekend and up to 12:16 EDT today, CNN did a runner. Turns out the gouge on Connie Joy's Facebook page -- that they'd pulled their equipment and skipped town last week -- was correct. CNN's own employees who even confirmed via email were wrong. But that sort of total incompetence is par for the course when it comes to CNN's coverage of this trial.

And Megan Fredrickson whose testimony we were hotly anticipating? In the wind. Both she and her husband Josh took a powder. They are nowhere to be found. Through their attorney, the State learned that she was refusing to cooperate. She and her husband are afraid of being indicted. I expect they'll be avoiding the state of Arizona indefinitely.

Throughout the early part of the day, there were legal arguments which kept the jury in a holding pattern outside the courtroom. In an unsurprising move, the defense made another motion for mistrial. I'm starting to think that shouting "mistrial" is just some strange verbal tic that Luis Li can't really control.

Motions had already been flying back and forth with the defense moving to strike four of five aggravating factors proposed by the State. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss two: presence of an accomplice and the heinous, cruel, and depraved nature of the crime. No doubt these things would have been hard to prove without Megan Fredrickson's testimony.

The list of witnesses offered by the State was winnowed down to three; all family members of the deceased. Andrea Puckett is Liz Neuman's daughter. Ginny Brown is Kirby Brown's mother. Alyssa Gillespie is James Shore's widow.

And then the testimony began.

Even without the streaming video, and relying on nothing but second-hand recounting via Twitter, I repeatedly found myself moved to sobbing. Most unbearable was the thought of James Shore's children learning of the loss of their father. Alyssa Gillespie described her three children waiting excitedly for the return of their father from his trip. She described Shore as an "amazing father," her partner, and her best friend. And she described the children's horrified grief at learning he would not be coming home.

She continued, "The wailing, the sounds... the sounds that come out of a very small child... there's no way to tell your kids that their dad is dead. I just had to do it, I just had to say their dad is dead."

Her eldest daughter experienced extreme anxiety, night terrors, and would wake up screaming "where's dad?" Her son asked Santa to bring his father back.

Gillespie was not surprised to learn that her husband had saved Sidney Spencer by taking her out of the sweat lodge. "James lived as a hero," she said.

Ginny Brown had characteristically strong words. Brown has been outspoken from the beginning, leaving no one to doubt whom she holds responsible for the loss of her daughter. She recently gave this interview in which she openly called Ray a "loser" for not following his own teachings on taking responsibility. She was equally blunt on the stand.

"I was horrified, horrified," said Virginia Brown, Kirby Brown's mother. "Kirby was a great adventurer, but she was very conscious of safety."

Brown told jurors that she blames Ray for her daughters death. Family members of all the victims say none of Ray's staff came to the hospital to help ID them.

She described her daughter as someone who "played full on since she was born."

"I would often describe Kirby as drunk on life," she said.

She described the unutterable pain of hearing the worst words a mother possibly can from a Trooper at her door. She just started screaming, she said.

Brown also disclosed that she and her family have founded SEEK Safely, an organization dedicated to educating people about some of the dangers of the self-help movement.

Andrea Puckett described her mother Liz Neuman as "full of life" and "strong willed."

Like Brown, she described the failure of James Ray and JRI to apprise her family of her mother's condition. She learned of it, she said, from her mother's Facebook page. When Ray finally contacted her, the day after her mother's death, she hung up on him.

The seven days in the hospital with her mother on life support she said were the most difficult of her life. She was overcome with emotion as she described removing her from life support.

Neuman slipped into a coma after the two-hour ceremony near Sedona. Her organs were failing, she had minor seizures, her body was swollen, she was on dialysis and was hooked up to a lot of machines, Puckett said. The family was told she had almost no chance of surviving, and decided to take her off life support.

"You want to hang on to that hope, but at the same time you have to think about her and what she would want," Puckett said. "The hardest part of being there was having to make that decision."

Puckett's daughter and what would have been Neuman's first granddaughter, 9-month-old Lauren, was born a year to the date that she dropped her mom off at the airport to go to Ray's event. Lauren's middle name, Marie, is the same as Neuman's.

She described her sadness that her mother will not be there for a fourth generation photo with her daughter and granddaughter.

Apart from the loss, what ties the family members of these victims together is how completely they were failed by James Ray. Their testimony showed jurors yet another way that his almost inconceivable  callousness made a bad situation worse. None of them were contacted promptly by JRI. Like Colleen Conaway, Neuman spent time listed as a Jane Doe. Puckett described for the jury how she ultimately had to give a physical description to the hospital so that her mother could be identified.

Defense attorneys had no questions for any of the witnesses; for once showing they know the wisdom of restraint. Not when it came to addressing the jury, however. Kelly reportedly took them to task for rushing to judgment. He let them know that he was disappointed in their verdict and in their taking only five hours to reach it. Team Ray can't seem to go a single day without acting like total dicks.

Meanwhile, CNN left confused trial watchers wondering why they spent the day seeing nothing but empty chairs:

Empty tables:

And empty feeds.

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