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Sat, Dec. 14

Ray's potential prison time shrinks after aggravating factor hearing

CAMP VERDE - James Arthur Ray's defense gained a small victory Thursday - and the possibility of a larger win to come - when the jury that convicted him last week failed to find proof of enough aggravating factors to leave him liable for the maximum prison term.

Ray remains free, at least until his July 25 sentencing, on $525,000 bond despite Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk's request that Judge Warren Darrow order him taken into custody. The self-help speaker and author now faces a possible prison term of no more than nine years after his conviction on three counts of negligent homicide. He is also eligible for probation.

Jurors deliberated for more than 10 hours on the three state-alleged aggravating factors that could have left Ray facing a sentence of as long as 11.25 years. That was half again as long as the time they needed to find him guilty in the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman. By mid-afternoon Thursday they had decided that the state had proven one of the factors - that the deaths had caused severe emotional harm to the victims' families - on each count, and one additional factor - that Ray had a unique position of trust - in the case of Neuman, who was a member of Ray's volunteer dream team during the October 2009 Spiritual Warrior seminar near Sedona.

The jury found that the state had not proven that Ray caused the deaths, which occurred after a sweat lodge ceremony during the seminar, as a means to achieve monetary gain.

After the reading of the aggravation decision, Darrow dismissed the jury. All declined to speak to gathered media.

Before sentencing can occur, the defense will submit mitigating factors for Ray, who has no prior criminal convictions. Darrow will weigh them against the aggravating factor before making his decision.

In addition, Darrow must rule on another motion for mistrial that came about because of an alleged procedural violation by Polk.

In her closing argument for the aggravation phase on Wednesday, Polk played an audio clip the defense maintains was never admitted into evidence. The clip features Ray speaking to seminar participants about their reasons for coming to Sedona for the event and suffering through sleeping in tents and sharing bathrooms after making a $10,000 investment, and the defense alleged at the time that they didn't believe it had ever been played at trial.

That lack would make it inadmissible in the aggravation phase, but Darrow allowed Polk to continue on Wednesday after she insisted she had used it in her March 1 opening statement and had it properly admitted into evidence.

On Thursday, though, after reviewing a video of Polk's opening, the defense resumed its objection and motion for mistrial. Darrow said he would allow Polk time to reply to the allegation, and would review the record himself, before ruling on the motion.

Darrow appeared visibly displeased with the turn of events and agreed with defense attorney Tom Kelly that the allegation, if true, would have "serious implications," especially considering that jurors had the clip, among others, available on CD while they deliberated on Ray's guilt or innocence last week.

After the hearing, three friends of Kirby Brown spoke to the assembled media about the jury's decision and their feelings about the defendant and the companion they lost to the tragedy.

"I had hoped it would come out differently," said Deborah Goldstein, "but I think (the jurors) took their job seriously."

"He (Ray) should not be exempt from freedom of choice and free will," Mika Cutler said. "It was his freedom of choice (to put people in danger), and his free will not to do anything about it."

"She was an amazing person," Billy Dahly said of Brown. "She was everything that James Ray said a person should be. It's very frustrating to see someone like (Ray) go on interacting with people. His actions don't follow his words."

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