Guru's attorneys make case for lesser sentence

By the Associated Press | September 19, 2011 | 5:35 AM EDT

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Supporters of a self-help author convicted in the deaths of three people following an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony are set to testify this week in an effort to convince a judge that James Arthur Ray deserves a lenient sentence.

Ray faces anything from probation to nine years in prison after a jury found him guilty in late June of three counts of negligent homicide.

His attorneys have lined up 19 people to testify on his behalf during a weeklong hearing that starts Monday. The witnesses include Ray's mother and brother, who often were in the courtroom during his four-month trial, colleagues in the self-help industry and his former financial controller.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow will use the testimony to determine how long Ray, who led dozens of people in the ceremony near Sedona in October 2009, could spend in prison. Ray has no prior convictions.

This week's hearing and the Sept. 26 sentencing date were affirmed after Darrow denied the latest defense motion for a new trial.

Of the people who became ill during the two-hour ceremony, James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, and Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., were pronounced dead shortly after it ended. Liz Neuman, 48, of Prior Lake, Minn., never regained consciousness and died more than a week later. Eighteen others were hospitalized, but some participants reported no major problems.

Ray touted the ceremony as the highlight of his five-day "Spiritual Warrior" retreat. It was meant to be a re-birth for participants.

Prosecutors say they'll call Brown's mother and six other people to the stand this week to rebut the testimony of defense witnesses.

A woman who wrote a book about her life in Ray's inner circle, the lead detective in the case and a corporate risk management expert are on the prosecution's list.