Nov 30, 2011

Observations on James Ray's Sentencing

Two months ago I whined like a petulant child that James Arthur Ray was not sentenced, as scheduled, on my birthday. Considering that when he was finally sentenced on November 18, he was given the far too lenient sentence of two years minus time served, leave say, my birthday was probably the better for not knowing. I actually had a great birthday. I think it's fair to say it was a far sight better than James Ray's 54th which he celebrated last Tuesday at the Phx-Alhambra intake center, where he remains in detention, incommunicado, for two weeks before being transitioned to a state penitentiary to serve out his sentence. I'm not prone to schadenfreude but I guess there's some measure of justice in that. Does it in any way make up for three lives lost or for the devastation of three families? Absolutely not. But at least they have some measure of closure after this incredibly protracted quest for justice. Said the very articulate Ginny Brown, mother of the late Kirby Brown:

"There are no winners today," said Virginia Brown, Kirby's mother. "No sentencing can bring our daughter back, or bring Liz or James back. But at least this will be a deterrent, to Mr. Ray and to others who might think about putting people at risk. The judge referred to common sense and there was surely a lack of common sense here."

No punishment the justice system can mete out can bring back a loved one or balance any great, cosmic scale. One hopes it will go some way to protecting society, so if Ray's doing some jail time serves as a deterrent, that's an accomplishment for which prosecutors Sheila Polk, Bill Hughes, case officer Det. Diskin, and every other person who worked that long, involved case deserves a whole lot of credit. Said Det. Diskin, “I’ve been investigating this case longer than James Ray will spend in prison.”

Laugh or go mad, as they say.

Ray's sentencing day was a rough and fairly demoralizing one for me, personally. A very thorough write-up I had done on the second week of the presentencing hearing was eaten by Blogger as I was preparing to post. I had a day of weird computer glitches and freeze-ups -- something which as a Mac person I'm unaccustomed to. I was also in the final throes of a very nasty bug that had me out of commission for weeks. The mitigated sentence was disappointing and the whole thing just left me with a tired, empty feeling, really.

The sentencing hearing was streamed by CNN and when my computer wasn't frozen and when the ever inadequate CNNLive remembered to run the stream I saw a lot that made me heartsick. There were the poignant and articulate impact statements from family members of the deceased. And there was the thoroughly sickening "apology" from James Ray. The video above gives an overview.

Ray's performance went on like that for some time with him appealing to both family members in the gallery and the judge. Although I could not see his face during most of it, the voice was enough. His meter never varied, he sniffled with metronomic precision, he never stumbled on a single word. He was in total control the entire time. Normal people aren't in control when they break down into tears. They fight the tears back. They struggle to regain the composure they've lost. Ray's tears were on display as props.

As Tragedy in Sedona author Connie Joy discovered, the theatrically trained Ray can cry on cue. It became apparent to her, because she went to the same seminars repeatedly as a Dream Team volunteer, that the tears became predictable. From Tragedy in Sedona:

We watched James go through his material over and over again. The benefit was we were really getting to know it! For example, there was one part in his story about what it was like growing up as a nerd where he always cried. After seeing it a few times, we all noticed he cried at exactly the same spot, on cue each time. What any reasonable participant would see in a single viewing as real emotion now looked like an act; the realization was unsettling. Even now people still talk about James' ability to cry on cue.

It sparked a memory within me. At our first Harmonic Wealth Weekend, James mentioned to us he had taken lessons but decided not to pursue acting.

Maybe he did pursue it after all.

But Ray's weepy performance put me in mind of something else -- his mother's interview on In Session. The only difference is that James Ray can produce actual tears.

I did catch a glimpse of his face as he turned to go back to his seat and I saw the dead eyes, steely determination, and barest hint of a smirk, that was so incongruous with the dramatic display he'd just given the court.

Whether or not Judge Darrow was swayed by Ray's performance, I can't say. He did say that his decision was based on the law, not on emotion. I tend to believe him. He seems to have reduced all the emotionally laden content down to a mathematical equation. Ray says his goal was to help people. Some people said they were helped by his work. Therefore: mitigated sentence.

I will concede, as Ginny Brown did during the hearing, that some people were helped by Ray's work. Connie Joy shares in her book that she learned a lot about herself and gained a lot of healing and growth in her years of study with Ray. As I've said repeatedly, Ray stole from good teachers and bad and some of what he taught had value. Message, not the messenger, as they say.

What many learned from James Ray were hard and painful lessons about putting their trust in the wrong people. These were valuable but expensive lessons. The steepest losses came in the form of emotional injury. With James Ray the cost always outweighs the benefit on every level. And that was something Judge Darrow seems not to have factored into his calculus.

As a side note, I offer this example of Ray in action. It was not something that came up in trial testimony but this "game" was discussed in Tragedy in Sedona and graphically described by Dorothy Schley.

There was the money game where unsuspecting, innocent people took out all the money they had (when asked what their education was worth to them) and passed it around a room of 400 people, not knowing they would never see it again. And the unaffected look on JR’s face when several stood up and said they had lost $600.00, $900.00 and $1100.00. He simply asked him if they had learned their lesson. What lesson? I have always believed that money flows and have never been one to be afraid of it. I just felt like this was more of a mind control than educational game. Once I realized we were “trading” money, I only pulled out $1.00. I ended up with $5.00 after the game was over. I was shocked at the people who did not get up and return the large amounts of money that was obviously not theirs. One woman stood up and said that she had given all the money she had for the weekend, $600.00 and was left with $5.00. She pleaded for money after the conference was over. I don’t know how much she was given.

That's Ray all over. Telling people to participate in an activity without any warning of what they're risking and perfectly content to leave people without money on a weekend away from home, never mind how unsafe that can be. To Ray other people's money is like water and their safety is their responsibility even when he's the one who's compromised it.

In a passionate closing argument last week, Sheila Polk called on Judge Darrow to consider Ray's character. She described him as "sadistic and intimidating."

"What kind of man," Polk asked, "leaves a scene of death and sickness to shower and eat?"

Judge Darrow either did not consider or did not grasp Ray's character. Instead he seemed to bend over over backwards to take a neutral view of some of the most blatantly disturbing indicators, including a support letter from Wendy Benkowski, which he specifically referenced in his remarks, saying that it could be read in two different ways.

In her closing, Polk pointed to the letter as evidence of Ray's bad effect on people. She asked why the defendant would submit such an "offensive, hurtful letter." Indeed. This is the closing of Benkowski's bizarre, stream of consciousness rant.

James has integrity and his message has integrity.
I am witnessing the power of his spoken word.
I am witnessing the shadow side of Harmonic Wealth.
The 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat is a great lesson.
The LESSON has touched the consciousness of the world.
I respect and honor the sacrifice of Liz, Kirby, and James.
I request compassion for my friend James Ray.

Polk did well in singling this out from the pile of dross that is Ray's support letters. The scariest of the letters came from Ray's most ardent supporters and this one is deeply nuts. The unmistakable implication that the deaths of three people were a necessary sacrifice for some undefined "lesson" is disturbing enough. But it gets even worse if you read the subtext. Her reference to the "shadow side of Harmonic Wealth" is chilling. It implies that there is loss penalty for gain -- something I know Ray was teaching. You can't manifest light without manifesting dark. I don't know to what extent he took that message in his teachings as they were progressing. Connie Joy related in Tragedy in Sedona this episode from their trip to Egypt:

Our second stop: the temple of Kom Ombo. Built for the god Sobek, the negative or dark in the world, and the god Horus, the positive or light in the world, the temple was, in reality, conjoined twin temples. We examined our anti-intentions, the less than desirable side effects that would happen as we worked towards our intentions. Were we ready to take them on as well? The law of polarity states that, to carry the light, we must also carry the dark. The negative aspects of our intentions will show up first. Say your intention is to double your income over the next year. The negative side effects of more business income over the next year. The negative effects of more business could be that you will be busier and therefore have less time to be with your family, to travel, read, and exercise. You might feel rushed with your family, to travel, read, and exercise. You might feel rushed more often or even most of the time. You will get busier before you see your income grow, and that is why most people stop the process at that point. They express their distaste for becoming busier by complaining, or by not working as hard. The universe acknowledges the stopping of the process by saying, "your wish is my command" and the goal slips away before it was to arrive. Seeing the negative consequences of your request appear in your life means you are getting close to your goal, but you have to persevere through the negative first! Be happy to see the negative side effects, because it means the results you want are almost here. So in examining anti-intentions, we have to decide and commit to accepting the negative consequences that come with attaining our goals.

In rereading the Benkowski letter, I have to wonder if this was how she views the sweat lodge disaster. Did she see the deaths of three people as some cosmic sacrifice for "wealth?" If so, is this is this a wild overstatement of what Ray was teaching or just following his teachings to their natural conclusion? Shudder.

Judge Darrow took an equally dispassionate view of the recorded discussion in which a number of women revealed their sex abuse histories -- the recording too sensitive to be played in court. Darrow discounted the prosecution's use of the term "vile" to characterize them and said his personal views of them were not relevant. He chose to look at exhibit 1160 "objectively" as demonstrating an "intimate, trusting environment," entered into by people who knew the "difference between therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and a motivational speaker." This grossly understates the role that many of Ray's students saw him as holding, which went well beyond that of a simple, motivational speaker. They saw him as a spiritual leader, an extensively trained shaman (dear God,), and someone who was only a few credits shy of a psychology degree because all of that was what he told them.

Defense attorney Tom Kelly had erroneously compared the event to an AA meeting or religious context. But Alcoholics ANONYMOUS has a privacy agreement in place. No one can take outside the meetings what they hear in them. The confessional is sealed. This seminar and the discussion in question were recorded and those recordings became the property of JRI. That's a pretty big difference. Unlike AA, which doesn't allow crosstalk, Ray's event included his commentary in which he trivialized the trauma of abuse by pointing out that it's common. Worse, in the context of the same discussion he made an off-color joke comparing a the mic to the male member, which all the women there surely knew how to "handle."

The most generous reading of that episode I could make would be to say that Ray is oblivious to what sex abuse survivors experience when those wounds are re-opened. The harshest read would be that he knows full well. Given his propensity for leveraging people's vulnerabilities to break them down and make them increasingly dependent, I'm inclined toward that interpretation.

There were hints, throughout the trial, at something truly sinister in James Ray. But none of that was proven in trial and it could not fairly have been expected of Judge Darrow to deduce that. There was, however, plenty that pointed to his being manipulative and mercenary and it was all available to the judge if not to the jury. The fact that he never gave refunds, for instance, Darrow knew. Whatever warnings about the events came in the form of waivers well after they'd paid, providing no opportunity for people to to pull out and get their money back.

Another indicator of Ray's ruthless financial policies came out during the sentencing hearing when the late Kirby Brown's cousin Bobby Magnanini spoke. Magnanini is also an attorney and he handled the civil litigation for the family. Explaining that they only took the settlement to ensure compensation for James Shore's family -- for which he was the sole breadwinner -- he gave some telling detail. The insurance policy Ray had to cover the business was for a million dollars. Magnanini was clever enough to find a way to go after a five million dollar media policy ("poorly designed" to protect against copyright infringement) because the events were recorded. But a million dollars was all that would normally have been available for a settlement in the event of, say, three people dying on his watch, which is what happened. He did, however, have a ten million dollar policy on himself and his home. Says a lot about his priorities, I think.

I, for one, don't buy that Ray's goal was to "help people" except as a means to an end -- that end being his ascent as the "first billionaire" spiritual teacher. That pecuniary focus seems blatantly obvious to me, but I can only speak for myself. I also think Ray stole power from people. From a shamanic perspective, he stole soul parts. That's not something that can be proven or prosecuted in a court of law but the disempowering verbal abuse and mind games were demonstrated repeatedly in witness testimony. It undercuts rather substantially whatever "help" Ray gave people.

Personally, I thought the mitigation testimony the defense put forward in the presentencing hearing was weak. It was lacking in both quality and quantity. The witness list went from twenty-three to twelve to ten as the week progressed. As per Bob Ortega, defense attorney Tom Kelly said he would call four more witnesses for Wednesday and five on Thursday, claiming that they were trimming their witness list to stay on schedule. But, as Tom McFeeley so astutely pointed out, if time was the issue, why were they out at 2:00 on Tuesday? They certainly had time to present more than three witnesses that day, even with Det. Diskin completing his testimony from the previous week. And the promised five witnesses for Thursday dwindled to three.

Conspicuous by his absence was Bob Proctor whose appalling letter of support I discussed here. So, the court was spared a lecture on his particular brand of victim blame. Also among the notable missing was Tony Alessandra, who spearheaded efforts to get letters of support for Ray's mitigation hearing. Alessandra, by the way, owned Life Results, the company Ray drained of funds. I can't imagine he wanted to answer questions about that.

So who was left to testify to all of James Ray's "help?"

There were a handful of former students. Jennifer Kwasny, a former Pima County juvenile probation officer who characterized Ray as "a stellar candidate for probation" but who admitted that she hadn't reviewed any of the police records, testimony, or documents from the case. One hopes she was a bit more thorough in her career as a probation officer. David McCall charged up $125,000 in Amex bills to join the World Wealth Society and put his whole family through Ray's curriculum. He says it was absolutely worth it because his daughter led her volleyball team to state finals. Dentist Matt Bynum credits Ray with saving his marriage and making him a better employer by teaching him to lay aside his ego -- one of many things Ray taught but seemingly did not learn. Dr. Art Mowery credits Ray with teaching him a "simple" philosophy easily worth the thousands of dollars Ray charges his students.

"He showed me that just having stuff wasn't going to make me happy," Mowery said. "It has to come from within. It sounds pretty simple and it really is, but it just took someone to make me sit down and write it down."

On cross-examination, Polk questioned why an educated person would need help with a simple philosophy.

"There's lots of things we all know already, like we shouldn't eat McDonald's all day long," Mowery said. "We just need somebody to stay on us about it."

I'm sure that was worth the thousands of dollars Ray charges.

Former employees also testified. Amy Grothe, Ray's former executive assistant, had the dubious distinction of stopping proceedings entirely when Judge Darrow noticed she was being coached by someone in the audience. Alex Smythe, the accountant for JRI, arguably did far more for the prosecution than the defense. He had no idea how much Ray made from JRI but knew that the company owed Ray $300,000 which had come from various nameless accounts. And, when pressed, he acknowledged that he didn't know if Ray had ever actually been a millionaire.

Ray also put forward a couple of people with disabilities whom he ostensibly helped, as a friend, for free. Mark Lane, a PTSD suffering veteran of dubious credibility, and Dr. Sean Stephenson, a wheelchair bound little person who is, himself, a motivational speaker. Born with a severe form of osteogenesis imperfecta, Stephenson seems a sympathetic character... until he opens his mouth. After that the condescending arrogance becomes painfully apparent even through the filter of someone else's tweets. He lectured the courtoom. He even lectured the judge. He interrupted the prosecutor repeatedly and dodged questions about the importance of credentials. He also appears to share Ray's well-known contempt for fat people, pointing out that he admired Ray's fit physique and indicating that he gets hate mail for his opinions on weight loss. It seems incongruous to think of a three-foot tall, deformed, wheelchair bound person being lookist and sizist, but there we are. But Stephenson was gracious enough to let people know that other people can achieve his level of Yoda-like wisdom. Then he went off to lecture people on Connie Joy's Facebook page in a series of posts so nasty he ended up deleting them all. To my knowledge he has never committed mass murder in a quest to find the hero to his anti-hero, so he has that going for him.

Do I feel like I'm kicking cripple by criticizing a severely disabled and deformed person like Dr. Stephenson? A little. But Stephenson has made it clear that he wants no special treatment or pity. Of course he welcomed free professional services and seminar tickets, deeply admiring that Ray never charged him for anything. So maybe he does want special treatment after all.

Of course Ray's family members -- mother Joyce and brother Jon -- testified to his wonderfulness and the need for him to free on probation. He's needed at home to take care of his cancer-stricken mother, because now he's also an uncredentialed expert on alternative cancer therapies. Besides, as a tearful brother Jon indicated, he's not safe in jail with all those mean Indians. They both made ludicrous claims about how well-behaved Ray was a child. His mother reiterated claims about his obedience and self discipline -- even as a baby. His brother claimed they never fought as kids. It all sounds a little implausible. If true, it points to something even more disturbing. How were they being raised that they were that buttoned down? What is Joyce Ray's obsession with obedience and self-discipline in small children?

So, with all ten of Ray's supporters, there was still plenty of time for Sheila Polk to redirect Det. Diskin and clear up some confusion left by Truc Do's typically shrill cross examination. In particular, Polk addressed head on Truc Do's attempts to marginalize the spiritual views of one of the letter writers for the prosecution, Marilyn Moss. As discussed, Do questioned her credibility because of her belief in Ray's ability to "shoot energy" at witnesses. But under Polk's redirect, it became even more clear that the entire belief system starts with Ray. Moss had described Ray as "a master of manipulating energy." She wrote, "It may sound far out there, but it is what he is doing right now." She further explained, "When we were Dream Team members, we were to stand around shooting energy with the 'triangle' gesture." She claimed that Ray was doing this in court, so Diskin began to watch Ray. The upshot? He saw Ray doing exactly that on more than one occasion. Judge Darrow even stood up to look at Diskin's demonstration of the gesture. So, as I said before, whatever "silliness" Do wants to mock in prosecution witnesses starts with her own client.

All in all, sentencing brought a less than satisfying ending to this long and painful saga. Two years in jail seems a small price to pay for cooking people to death. But, in the final analysis, Ray's greatest wounds were not inflicted by the criminal justice system but by himself. He could have addressed this head on, settled, plead out, and accepted responsibility early on. If he'd given his tearful apology two years ago, it wouldn't have looked so much like a transparent ploy to win over the judge deciding his fate. Instead he dragged this out for over two years, spent a fortune on legal counsel, and apparently wound up broke and living with his parents. Two years in jail may not seem like much but it means his plans to resume his career and rebuild his life through his fancy-schmancy new website are for naught. What works out to a bit less than two years in jail may not seem like much, but for someone like Ray, with his obvious need for control and inability to sit still without sedation, it's an eternity.

Ray also still has numerous lawsuits pending, including a new wrongful death suit from the family of Colleen Conaway whose inexplicable plunge in a San Diego mall still begs to be resolved. In the meanwhile, inmate 267823 can be tracked here.

The above is taken from press reports and from the excellent live tweeting of Bob Ortega and Camille Kimball who were our eyes and ears in the courtroom.

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Nov 23, 2011

FBI Raid on Amish Mullets

Egads! The Amish hair-cutting attacks discussed here and here are now being prosecuted at the federal level. The FBI raided the Berholz stronghold and arrested seven men including Bishop and purported cult leader Sam Mullet. They're charging this as a hate crime.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said religious differences should be a matter of theological debate, not disputes "resolved by late night visits to people's homes with weapons and violent attacks."

He said he does not know how often hate crimes involve intradenominational disputes.

A little more insight into why the Bergholz clan is considered a cult can also be found in the above linked article.

One of [Sam] Mullet's daughters-in-law and a former brother-in-law told investigators that Mullet controls everything that happens within the community outside Bergholz and that he allowed others to beat members of the group who disobeyed him, according to an affidavit filed in federal court Wednesday.

Mullet punished some by making them sleep in a chicken coop for days and was sexually intimate with married women in the community so that he could "cleanse them of the devil," the two said in the affidavit.

Now Mullet faces charges along with three of his sons and three other of his followers. If convicted could spend the rest of their lives in a federal chicken coop.

The criminal complaint, filed in Cleveland, charges Samuel Mullet Sr., Johnny S. Mullet, Daniel S. Mullet, Levi F. Miller, Eli M. Miller and Emanuel Schrock, all of Bergholz, Ohio; and Lester S. Mullet, of Hammondsville, Ohio, with assaulting others because of their actual or perceived religion. The maximum potential penalty for these violations is life in prison.

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Nov 18, 2011

James Ray Sentenced to Two Years

I have considered all of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in this case. And I've considered the purposes of the criminal law statutes: 13101. And there is an aspect of deterrence that is very prominent in this case. Mr. Ray, when a person has your incredible abilities to gain people's trust, there is a large, large responsibility that goes with that trust. And that responsibility was not honored. And I'm not considering lack of remorse in any way. I'm just simply saying, this was the nature, there were people in there, people who had spent their money, their time, and they placed their trust and that was violated… It is important that sentencing when appropriate conveys and insures that there is appropriate deterrence. So I see and I find that the aggravating circumstance of emotional harm is so strong and it's such that, uh, probation is simply not warranted in this case.

I find in, in mitigation, as I've mentioned, Mr. Ray did help people. It was his intent to help people. It was. And I recognize that. I recognize no prior criminal history of any kind. Nothing. No indication that you pose any kind of future threat. But it is the decision, a prison sentence is just mandated in this case. I do find, however, that looking at all the circumstances, considering my experience with precedent in cases -- and this certainly is a different kind of a case… It is certainly a case where the evidence of, uh, extreme negligence is strong. But I find looking at all the circumstances, at the mitigating circumstances, based on factors I've indicated are sufficiently substantial to call for mitigated terms and they will be concurrent.

It is the judgment and sentence of the court that Mr. Ray be imprisoned for the following mitigated terms: For negligent homicide of Kirby Brown, two years. For negligent homicide of Elizabeth Neuman, two years. For negligent homicide of James Shore, two years. All of these sentences date from today. They begin today. The defendant receives credit for 24 days time served. It is ordered imposing a consecutive term of community supervision as required by law. It's ordered that the defendant is committed the custody of the department of corrections to carry out these sentences.

~ Judge Warren Darrow on November 18, 2011

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Nov 13, 2011

James Ray's Presentencing Hearing: Week 1

Where were you when you first realized that James Arthur Ray was a colossal fraud? It's not a game I can play because I never thought he was up to much. But God knows I've experienced similar disillusionment so I can relate to the sense of loss, pain, confusion, and catharsis, that I hear echoed in so many of Ray's former students. That dawning realization theme figured heavily into the sweat lodge trial as survivors of Spiritual Warrior 2009 shared their tragic experiences -- many of them still conflicted and confused over how it could have gone so horribly wrong. The presentencing hearing, which heard the prosecution's case for three days this week, brought still more stories of disillusionment and realization.

In the protracted pre-sentence hearing for James Arthur Ray, the state has presented eight witnesses over the past three days in its effort to prove additional aggravating factors that would convince Judge Warren Darrow to sentence the motivational speaker and author to the maximum allowable term of nine years in prison.

Led by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, the prosecution seeks to show that Ray exhibited a pattern of negligent conduct that led to harm, that the victims in the case placed trust in him to keep them safe, that he lacked qualifications to conduct his events, and that many people were harmed, both physically and emotionally, by his actions and omissions.

As I'd assumed from her appearance on the prosecution's witness list, Kristina Bivins has become disenchanted with Ray. Bivins, who notoriously supported him during media interviews after the sweat lodge deaths, finally reached the breaking point. So what was it that shattered her belief in her teacher? Well. It wasn't her post-sweat lodge hospitalization.

"I couldn't see anything except for shapes and light, and I didn't know where I was," Bivins said. "It felt like my body and mind weren't connected. I couldn't get out of that state and I didn't know what to do."

Nope. Not even such severe injury could break her ties with Ray. In the end, it came down to money.

And even after the deadly debacle in Sedona, Bivins said she still believed in Ray's hybrid teachings, to the point she helped him develop strategies she believed were intended to compensate victims at least to some degree, as well as to help Ray get back on his feet financially. She appeared in print stories and on television on Ray's behalf.

But it was a dispute between Ray and two contract salespeople for Life Results, the firm that arose to allow Ray a chance to make a living by doing personal mentoring sessions, that finally turned her against her former mentor.

Ray, according to Bivins, was not the owner of Life Results, but did control its finances. So when Ray told her he had taken the money from Life Results to pay the mortgage on his Beverly Hills home rather than paying the salespeople their full commission, she saw the light of his true character.

Ray used a company he didn't even own as his personal piggy-bank. Shocker. Well. It came as at least enough of a shock that it caused the scales to fall from Bivins's extremely intense eyes. Upon learning that Ray had drained the company's account, Bivin's shelled out 18K herself to pay one of the contractors and like so many on the very long list of people Ray owes money to, she has not been repaid. Bivins has discovered the ugly truth. James Ray is a fraud who lies about his credentials and puts people in danger. Said Bivins:

"At first, I thought he was going to make things right; then as the summer went on I realized it was just about making money," Bivins said, adding that she now regrets having supported him for so long.

There comes a moment, in dealing with a personality like Ray, when it suddenly dawns that you've been making a lot of assumptions. You've assumed that they're like you. You've projected your own values and emotions onto them. You've rescripted all the inappropriate things they've said and done, telling yourself, Oh he didn't mean it like that. It just came out wrong.

And then the penny drops. The person does something so egregious that your increasingly tested state of denial shatters. And over a period of months, or even years, you recollect all the things that were gnawing at your subconscious all along.

She tearfully told the court that she had long repressed memories of the sweat-lodge ceremony, until she came to rethink her faith in his teachings.

Julia Bunker, a former Dream Team member, also testified to her gradual realization that James Ray's events were not safe. Convinced against her better judgment to snap an arrow against her neck, she began to believe Ray that it was all "mind over matter" and signed on for another Ray event. She embraced more of Ray's cheap martial arts tricks and came to believe that "I get hurt when I do certain physical activities," was just another limiting belief to be defeated by smashing pine boards and the like.

Little did Bunker know that Kurt Reinkin, whose accounting Det. Diskin read into the record on Thursday, had his eyelid punctured when he broke one of those arrows. JRI didn't even have a first aid kit to deal with the blood gushing from his eye.

Bunker engaged in increasingly reckless exercises, including the homeless exercise. As discussed, Colleen Conaway died when she was similarly abandoned in downtown San Diego and left to fend for herself without money, ID, or cell phone. This event began to set off some alarm bells for Bunker, despite having convinced herself that Ray would never have people do things that might actually harm them, if for no other reason than the limits of insurance protection. (Assumptions.) But participants in the homeless exercise weren't even allowed to write anything down and had to rely on nothing but notional breadcrumbs to find their way back to the buses. Bunker was "horrified" to see another participant get into a stranger's car. When she raised these safety concerns, she was told "You're bringing that, projecting that."

Such is the magical thinking of The Secret. It's not the actual, material threats in life that matter. Dangerous things can only hurt you if you think they can. Stay in denial and all will be well.

Bunker's concerns that Ray was not taking responsibility for putting people in danger grew considerably at an event in Hawaii. Numerous people had broken bones against the bricks they were pseudo-Karate chopping. And Ray did nothing. Injured people had to carpool to the hospital because Ray took no responsibility for getting them there. JRI also made it clear that they were not responsible for medical costs.

Ultimately, Bunker realized that suspending all fear might not be the best plan. Fear appears to have served her fairly well at the Spiritual Warrior 2008 when she left the sweat lodge after the second round. She also saw how ill some people who got at that event. In retrospect, she says if she had it to do over, she'd call 911. Perhaps if someone had called an ambulance then, no one would have died in 2009, she speculated.

Former Dream Team member Margaret Clancy also had her revelation amidst a myriad of breaking bones in Hawaii. When she considered how remote the location would be in Sedona, and the fact that Ray was doing nothing about the obvious injuries she was witnessing in Hawaii, she decided to forfeit the thousands of dollars in unrefundable fees for Spiritual Warrior 2008, rather than risk her health and safety.

Clancy described herself as "in shock" over Ray's inaction when people were injured. Ray never responded to an email she sent expressing her concerns over the injuries she'd witnessed. So Clancy was disillusioned when she realized that Ray didn't care at all if he put people at risk of injury. That was her big turning point but there were other red flags. According to Clancy, Ray claimed that he was only a few credits shy of being a psychologist. Wow.

Ray's qualifications, or the lack of them, was a key subject of hearing testimony this week. Ginny Brown, mother of the late Kirby Brown, testified that she had become disturbed at how he "allowed people to delve too deeply into their personal issues in front of a large crowd." Brown is an educator and therapist.

The information Ray prompted people to reveal was of such a sensitive nature that Judge Darrow stopped its reporting in open court and ordered the exhibit sealed this week. Prosecutors attempted to play a recording of Ray's "recapitulation" exercise. In it he called on people to write about their first sexual experience in the present tense, thus causing a number of people to relive their childhood sexual abuse. The highly personal disclosures on the recording brought objections from Truc Do and her objections were upheld. So, by Do's reasoning, the information was too sensitive to hear in open court but perfectly fine for Ray to publicly air at a large event in front of people many of whom were strangers to one another and who had no privacy agreement in place.

Do also objected to Det. Diskin's characterization of Ray's comments as nonchalant and insensitive. That objection was also upheld. But much as Connie Joy reported in her book about her own similar experience at a Ray event, Ray's response to these highly charged revelations was to comment that sex abuse of females is ubiquitous. I can't help thinking that someone who was really "a few credits short" of a psychology degree might have handled the revelation of such profound trauma with a little more sensitivity.

It looks like Det. Diskin's testimony was extremely contentious. It fell to Diskin to read a number of letters from Ray's disillusioned students and to testify to the numerous assertions about Ray's lack of qualifications. I have to admit that I'm almost glad that none of this was broadcast and I never had to hear Truc Do's cross examination of the detective. I don't know if there's anything worse than the sound of Truc Do's voice when she's being relentless.

It looks like Det. Diskin held his own against her repeated assertions that he wasn't doing his job properly or reporting accurate information. For instance, Do accused Diskin of "assuming" that figures quoted from a sales document were "actual income." But Diskin pointed out that it said "actual income" on the document retrieved from Ray's Carlsbad offices. So Diskin deserves at a least a few points for knowing how to read.

Diskin and Do went round and round on the issue of what Ray was or was not qualified to facilitate. A discussion of the trademarked Samurai Game®, which Ray is not certified to lead, brought a surprising disclosure from Do. In an attempt to explain the complexity of copyright law, Do explained that neither she nor Luis Li really understand it. So the limitations of their legal comprehension were offered as justification of Ray's use of proprietary material without permission. The owners of the game certainly think their copyright has been violated.

I would humbly suggest that the issue is not whether or not Allied Ronin's copyright claim would hold up in court, but the fact that Ray misrepresented his qualifications to people who were paying him a lot of money.

Ray also misrepresented his qualifications as a shaman and as a sweat lodge pourer. While Diskin concedes that there is no law regulating who can run a sweat lodge, numerous Native Americans have expressed their discontent. He explained that representatives of various tribes described a "spiritual calling" to be a water pourer. When Do asserted that there was no certification to lead a sweat lodge, Diskin corrected her by pointing out that each tribe has its own process for appointing pourers.

Once again, it comes down to how Ray represented himself to his students, most of whom believed him to be extensively trained by indigenous shamans. Lest we forget, one of Connie Joy's disillusioning moments was came she learned that Ray's Peruvian shaman was really a tour guide -- something Det. Diskin also pointed out on the stand.

Do underscored the fact that Ray had never claimed to be a licensed therapist. Diskin clarified that the issue was that he wasn't qualified to act as one. But as per Margaret Clancy's testimony, the knowledge and training of a psychologist, if not the certification, is yet another qualification Ray has arrogated to himself.

People paid this man thousands of dollars based, in large part, on his claims of lifelong study with spiritual teachers of various traditions. When those teachers turn out to be tour guides, or even nonexistent, it comes as a blow to the many people who thought he knew what he was doing and that they were safe in his care. A number of those who've been painfully disabused of their trust and faith in Ray were in court this week in person, in letters, or in spirit. And Judge Darrow heard them out.

Darrow heard a lot of the evidence that was precluded during the jury trial. He listened to details of Colleen Conaway's mysterious death and Det. Diskin and Truc Do tussled over whether or not Daniel Pfankuch had experienced heatstroke in 2005. Diskin argued that his body temperature had simply cooled too much by the time he finally got to the hospital to be properly diagnosed. Pfankuch, of course, has never been the same.

Ray's entire defense squadron was stuffed into Judge Darrow's tiny new courtroom in Prescott. They apparently cleared their schedules for the hearing and got their acts together after all the delays and confusion brought about Tom Kelly's unspecified "heart condition." They were full of piss, vinegar, and objections, as usual. They started the festivities with an attempt to strike all the aggravators. Their justification is here. Their motion was denied.

Predictably, they tried to garner pity for Ray and attack the veracity of his detractors. In a particularly disgusting turn of a events, Do attempted to attack the competence of one letter writer because of her spiritual beliefs. She had raised concerns about Ray's abilities to shoot energy at the witnesses, which Do characterized as silly. But Diskin pointed out that all of Ray's followers believe wacky things and that it's legitimate to them.

So once again, Ray's spiritual beliefs are protected but those of witnesses against him aren't. Never mind that it was Ray who was constantly conflating shamanism and sorcery, like his hero in the ways of fraud Carlos Castaneda. That some of his former students have gotten the idea that he is capable of harming people by manipulating energy shouldn't come as a shock. He certainly manipulated them all in enough ways -- sleep deprivation, NLP, stage hypnosis -- that many feel intimidated by his power over them. If Truc Do had any integrity, she'd a) honor the first amendment protected spiritual beliefs of witnesses, and b) consider that it's her own client who is the fountainhead of "silliness" in this context.

What else does the defense have, though, besides attempts to silence or discredit the many people who have been harmed by James Ray? They've got a broken down Harmonic Wealth author who can't afford his legal bills, has lost his many homes, and is living with his parents. All they can do is lean into the pathos. He had to pay millions in settlements, so of course he had no choice but to steal money from a company he didn't own. And his mother has cancer. He has to be there to take care of her. Never mind that he has nowhere else to live. Someone has to be there to tell her that it's all just mind over matter and that she has to play full on against those cancer cells... or something. I can't even begin to imagine what help from Ray in a health crisis looks like. Maybe he just sits around "in shock" like he did when people weren't breathing after that atrocity of a sweat lodge.

In the upcoming week, will come the defense's full case for Ray to receive the lightest possible sentence of probation only. An overview of their reasoning is here. Their witness list is here. And their objection to the presentencing report is here.

The above is taken from press reports and from the excellent live tweeting of Bob Ortega and Camille Kimball who were our eyes and ears in the courtroom this week.

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Nov 3, 2011

Ireland to Close Vatican Embassy

Ireland is closing its embassy to the Vatican. But it has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the dispute that, ahem, didn't cause the Vatican to pull their ambassador to Ireland.

Ireland announced Thursday it is closing its embassies to the Vatican and two other nations, but denied that its deteriorating relations with the Catholic Church played a role in its choice of cuts.

Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said Ireland was under grave financial pressure as it tries to slash spending in line with its international bailout last year. He said a review determined that Ireland's diplomatic posts to the Vatican, Iran and Timor Leste offered the least returns in foreign investment.

"The government believes that Ireland's interests with the Holy See can be sufficiently represented by a non-resident ambassador," Gilmore said, suggesting that a diplomat based in another European country would be assigned the Vatican brief, too.

In Rome, the Vatican likewise dismissed concerns that the Irish were sending another rebuke to the Catholic Church over its cover-ups of decades of child abuse in Ireland.

Right. Gotcha.

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