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June 25, 2011

An Arizona court has convicted self-help guru James Arthur Ray, 53, of three counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of three participants in his motivational retreat sweat lodge, says Reuters.

A jury deliberated less than twelve hours before deciding Ray was responsible for the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown NY, Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake MN and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee WI. All participants in his October 2009 retreat at the Angel Valley Retreat Center outside Sedona, AZ.

Fifty-six people aged 30 to 60 years of age participated in the five-day "Spiritual Warrior" retreat that promised to "absolutely change your life" and they paid $10,000 each to do so. Following a grueling schedule, participants fasted for 36 hours, ate a breakfast and attended seminars into the afternoon before finally entering a sweat lodge built by Ray and his staff that was a version of a Native American ceremonial sauna.

When people in the sweat lodge began to vomit, suffer burns and suffer respiratory distress, Ray reprimanded them for wanting out and ordered more hot rocks.

Some people staggered out and it may have saved their lives. Shore and Brown died inside the sweat lodge that day and more than twenty more needed medical care at local hospitals, including Neuman who died a week later.

ABC News reports that records show a pattern of illnesses at Ray’s prior events that he ignored.

"He knew people were in trouble, and he ignored all the warning signs. He chose to just continue pushing and pushing," Beverly Bunn, who survived the sweat lodge that day, told TIME.

Motivational speaker Ray wrote the bestseller Harmonic Wealth, was featured in The Secret and appeared on shows such as Oprah, Larry King Live and the Today Show. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ray’s business brought in about $10 million each year.

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