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On Friday, July 20, James Arthur Ray walked away from the Arizona State Prison Complex in Buckeye as a free man.

      In June 2011, a jury convicted James Arthur Ray of three counts of negligent homicide, but found him not guilty of manslaughter.Ray served 85 percent of a two-year sentence for causing the deaths of three people just outside of Sedona.

     News Editor Christopher Fox Graham Before October 2009, Ray was best known as a motivational speaker and self-described spiritual leader. Mainstream audiences knew him for his work with the New Age documentary-style film “The Secret,” which advocated for the “law of attraction,” a pseudo-scientific belief created in the early 1900s. According to the belief system, if a person focuses and wishes hard enough for something — be it a car, new job or change in lifestyle — they can attract it into their lives.

      Ray’s 2008 book “Harmonic Wealth” attracted followers to his specific interpretation of the law of attraction.

      For his most loyal believers, he began holding “Spiritual Warrior” retreats, which often cost thousands of dollars. Activities at the retreats reportedly grew more and more dangerous, resulting in several injuries and one death at a mall in San Diego in July 2009.

      In October 2009, Ray led a weeklong retreat at a center southwest of Sedona. The final day involved a “sweat lodge” activity. Many of the participants were dehydrated and weakened from a day of fasting. The heat inside the lodge intensified during the last session and some of the participants began to faint and others evacuated the lodge.

      Three people died. Two on the scene, and a third who died a little over a week later. Eighteen others were hospitalized. In June 2011, a jury convicted Ray of three counts of negligent homicide, but found him not guilty of manslaughter. While many believed Ray deserved a longer sentence for the deaths of three people, the jury made its decision based on the evidence and the case presented.

      The three deaths and Ray’s trial held a cloud over Sedona for more than two years. Although the retreat was outside city limits, none of the victims were Verde Valley residents and the trial was held in Prescott, Sedona was in the national news as the location of the “sweat lodge deaths.”

      Sedona’s New Age community employs hundreds of residents and spiritual tourists bring in a significant amount of sales tax revenue to the city. The national coverage cast the city’s New Age community in a sometimes cynical light. The rationale of one’s spiritual or religious convictions is deeply personal and should be respected.

      Now with the case over and Ray released, Sedona and the Verde Valley can close this chapter in its history.


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