I would love to write the details of this story, the drama, the nailbiting….but Lynne LaMaster already did a fantastic job and I will refer you to her written work as well as post it here. She does a great job posting links and explaining in detail what has happened so far:
There have been 29 long days of testimony in the manslaughter trial of James Arthur Ray.
Ray was leading a Spiritual Warrior retreat at the Angel Valley Lodge in the hills between Sedona and Cottonwood, in October, 2009. The final event of the Spiritual Warrior retreat was a sweat lodge, where he and approximately 60 participants, crowded together for 8 rounds, lasting nearly 2 hours. By the time the sweat lodge event was done, Kirby Brown and James Shore had died, and 19 others were transported to nearby hospitals. In the days following the incident, another participant, Liz Neuman, also died.
During those 29 days, testimony has been heard from participants; James Ray International (JRI) volunteers and staff; medical personnel and Angel Lodge employees. People have come from Canada, California and the eastern United States to testify.
But, now, all that may be for nothing, as Judge Warren Darrow has placed the Ray trial in recess until further notice, after a second defense motion for a mistrial was filed Monday. That motion requested expedited oral argument.
In response, Judge Darrow’s order states:
What Led Up To This?
The Prosecution and the Defense have had innumerable legal wrangles and quarrels over the course of the last eight weeks in court, and before, during the sixteen months of trial preparation. Each side has accused the other of using language that is unfair and even prejudicial; asking improper questions; witholding evidence that should have been provided to the other party, and much more. Most of the time, Judge Darrow has responded even-handedly and calmly, but there have been times when his patience appeared to be stretched to the limit.
Three key situations, however, have the potential for costly remedies, or, even, under extreme circumstances, a mistrial.
Situation One: The Medical Examiner Meeting
This situation occurred several months before the trial began. In December 2009, the State called the medical examiners together for a meeting to determine cause of death. Afterwards, the State did not reveal this to the Defense, going so far as to tell the parties at the meeting that they should not disclose any of the details of this meeting.
The State’s reasoning? According to a motion filed by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, “…the State honestly believed and continues to believe [the meeting notes and related information] were non-disclosable work product.”
Judge Darrow unequivocally disagreed with the State, and on September 20, 2010, Motion Regarding Medical Examiner Dec. 2009 meeting ruled, “As the meeting among the prosecutors, law enforcement representatives, and the expert witnesses apparently was not recorded, the State must disclose any and all notes, regardless of the organizational affiliation of the author, summarizing the medical examiners’ oral communications at the meeting… The Court also concludes that… the imposition of monetary sanctions in accordance with Rule 15.7 (a) is appropriate.”
To boil the legal jargon down, the Court ruled that the State would have to reimburse the Defense for the costs associated with re-interviewing the medical examiners about this meeting and their findings.
The State complied with the disclosure order. On January 19, 2011, the Defense submitted a bill in the amount of $31,259.43 .
That caused the State to return to the Court for relief. In a motion dated January 21, 2011, Polk asked for a reconsideration of the impositon of monetary sanctions. The Defense, replied, justifying their perspective, to which the State responded again.
Judge Darrow’s ruling read, “The Court sustains the State’s objection to the statement of costs, and the attorneys for the Defendant are directed to submit a revised statement. The State’s motion for reconsideration is denied.”
Judge Darrow’s Response
At this point, the Defense has not yet apparently submitted a revised statement.
Situation Two: First Mistrial Motion
It was Wednesday morning, April 6, that Judge Darrow agreed with County Attorney Polk that evidence pertaining to previous sweat lodges held by Ray at other Spiritual Warrior events could be admitted as evidence, as long as the evidence had to do with ‘causation of death’.
Mark Duncan, reporting for Camp Verde’s paper, The Bugle, in an article titled, Witness tells of troubles at three Ray-led sweat lodges, writes, “In a Feb. 3 ruling, Darrow ordered that ‘without medical testimony connecting the observations of physical and mental distress exhibited by the pre-2009 sweat lodge participants with a risk of death and without evidence of the defendant’s knowledge of the actual type of risk, the evidence is not relevant to the stated purpose.'”
Duncan continued, “Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk argued Wednesday that the medical testimony has taken place and that the alleged suffering of participants in Ray’s pre-2009 sweat lodge ceremonies established a pattern she said was inescapable: that when Ray led a sweat lodge at the Angel Valley Retreat Center, people got sick, and that when others did so, no one got sick.”
Despite several points of argument from Defense attorneys Tom Kelly and Luis Li, Judge Darrow was calm and resolute.
The Defense then moved for a mistrial. The Judge decisively denied the motion.
On April 6, the Defense also filed a 45-page miscellaneous memorandum detailing alleged Prosecutorial misconduct
As stated in the introduction, “…When prosecutorial misconduct becomes pervasive, however, Arizona law provides that the cumulative effect may require a mistrial… And where the government’s misconduct is knowing, prejudicial and taken with ‘indifference to a signuficant resulting danger of mistrial or reversal,’ the Double Jeopardy clause bars retrial.”
The State has not yet filed a response (at least not one that has been uploaded to the Court’s website.)
Situation Three: Second MIstrial Motion
But it was on Monday, April 11 that the Defense dropped their biggest accusation yet, titled, “Defendant James Arthur Ray’s Motion for Mistrial Based on Intentional and Willful Suppression of Exculpatory Evidence, Emergency Hearing Requested“.
In that 41-page document, Ray’s attorneys insist that a mistrial must be granted and retrial barred, writing in the introductory statement, “The Defense has just learned of a constitutional violation that eclipses all other issues that have been litigated in this trial. For the past eleven months, the State has suppressed material, exculpatory evidence. The evidence – an expert witness report prepared by an environmental scientist at the State’s request – identifies a different cause of death and a differeent culpable party than those which the State has alleged throughout this case. This amounts to a severe violation of Brady v. Maryland, Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 15.1(b)(8), and Due Process. The trial’s entire trajectory has been infected, and the Court and jury misled, because of the suppression. The prejudice to the Defense cannot be cured. Under clearly established law, a mistrial must be granted and retrial barred.”
At issue is an April 29. 2010 report from an alleged environmental expert, Richard Haddow. In that report, Haddow offers other explanations regarding the cause of death for Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore.
The Defense maintains that the State did not disclose Haddow’s opinion or existence until he appeared on a witness list in late October, 2010. Despite several requests for information regarding Haddow, the Defense alleges that those requests were essentially ignored. Had they known the information in the report, they would likely have prepared their defense differently, they claim.
County Attorney Sheila Polk has not had an opportunity to respond yet to the charges, but Judge Darrow has ordered her to do so by 5 PM Tuesday night, April 12. Much is riding on that response. Until Polk’s official reply is released, it’s a wait-and-see situation.
The seriousness of this latest accusation by the Defense cannot be underestimated. While the first motion for a mistrial was dealt with in just a few minutes; in this case, Judge Darrow has called for oral arguments Wednesday at 8:30 AM, and will attempt to determine the facts.
For now, the trial is in recess until further notice. According to a note from Judge Darrow’s Judicial Assistant Diane Troxell, sent via email on Monday, “Please be advised that the James Ray trial will not be held tomorrow, April 12, 2011, due to a pending legal matter. The jurors are being asked to contact the Jury Commissioner at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday for further instructions.”
Side note: Imagine having another judge as part of your jury. A document uploaded to the County’s website reads, “The Court has been advised that Superior Court Judge Cele’ Hancock has been summoned to appear for jury duty in the matter of State of Arizona vs. James Arthur Ray…”Good cause appearing therefor, it is ordered excusing Judge Hancock from jury duty…”
Excusing Judge Hancock