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9:35 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

Ray to appeal homicide conviction

PRESCOTT - As their client begins serving a two-year prison sentence, attorneys for James Arthur Ray on Monday filed their intent to appeal his conviction, sentence, restitution and fine.

On Nov. 18, Judge Warren Darrow sentenced Ray, a well-known motivational speaker and author, to three two-year terms, to be served concurrently, over the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman. The three perished from heat-related trauma they suffered while taking part in an October 2009 Ray-led sweat lodge ceremony at a spiritual retreat center near Sedona.

In addition, Darrow ordered Ray to pay $57,514 in restitution to the families of the victims and a fine of $20,000 plus an 84 percent surcharge, totaling $36,800.

During his pre-sentence hearing, Ray expressly agreed to the restitution amount. When it was later determined that the law allows for settlements from civil suits to offset restitution, Darrow ordered that any amount Ray pays toward the fine be directed to the victims.

Ray's insurers have paid about $3 million to the families of Brown, Shore and Neuman.

The notice of appeal, filed in Superior Court, does not refer to specific issues of law Ray's attorneys will raise with the actual filing at the Court of Appeals. During Ray's four-month trial in Camp Verde, the defense made at least five motions for mistrial based on issues that included the admissibility of evidence, disclosure violations and prosecutorial misconduct. Darrow denied each mistrial motion as well as a motion for a new trial the defense filed shortly after Ray's June conviction.

Now, the state has 20 days to file a notice of cross-appeal, an action that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk has indicated she intends to take.

"There were several rulings against the state that I disagreed with and look forward to raising on appeal," she said.

Ray's attorneys did not immediately return calls and emails asking for insight into the nature of the issues they plan to raise.

The appeals process is a lengthy one, with cases often waiting six months or longer for review by the court. The court will only review contested legal issues and not the facts of the case. The three-judge panel will sometimes ask for oral arguments on the issues.

After review, the appeals court can uphold the conviction and sentence or set aside the judgment and order Ray's release. It can also order a complete re-trial or a re-hearing of parts of the case.

Statutes call for Ray to serve at least 85 percent of his two-year term, minus the 24 days he spent in Yavapai County Jail after his indictment and arrest in February 2010.

According to corrections department records, he now resides at the Lewis prison complex south of Buckeye. His sentence is set to expire in October 2013 but his earliest possible release date to community supervision is listed as April 2013.

The earlier date is the result of 2010 efforts by the Legislature and the department to alleviate prison overcrowding and budget shortfalls through the early release of non-dangerous offenders.