Sweat lodge trial: Details prevent defense from resting

Jack Kurtz/The Associated Press<br>
Defense attorney Luis Li makes his opening statement at the beginning of the criminal trial of James Ray.

Jack Kurtz/The Associated Press<br> Defense attorney Luis Li makes his opening statement at the beginning of the criminal trial of James Ray.

CAMP VERDE - James Arthur Ray's defense team called its second and final witness Thursday, and only evidentiary details prevented them from letting the jury know that their case is complete.

Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Bill Hughes completed a vigorous cross-examination of New Mexico medical examiner Dr. Ian Paul, who didn't budge from his position that organophosphate toxins could have played a part in the three deaths that led to manslaughter charges against Ray.

Ray, 53, who rose to national attention after his appearance in the 2006 video "The Secret," faces the charges over the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, participants in the sweat lodge ceremony portion of Ray's October 2009 Spiritual Warrior seminar near Sedona. He has pleaded not guilty and will not testify on his own behalf.

The state contends that heatstroke caused the deaths and that Ray was solely to blame for the level of heat in the sweat lodge, as well as for the number and length of the ceremony's rounds.

On Thursday, Hughes leveled a volley of questions toward the details of Paul's testimony, which began Wednesday, and the reference materials he supplied along with his report. Hughes started with the contention that pinpoint pupils did not necessarily point to an illness based on poisoning from organophosphate-based pesticides. Quoting from one of the articles that supported the report of Paul, who is a paid witness for the defense, Hughes pointed out that pupil size in heatstroke deaths ranged from pinpoint to normal to dilated.

Paul explained that pupil size is not a significant factor in a determination of heatstroke, but is a hallmark of organophosphate toxicity.

"It's the most common sign of organophosphate toxicity," he said, adding that while the indicator was not detectable in those who died, the fact that four participants who were hospitalized in critical condition had pinpoint pupils "is a strong sign that this is something other than heatstroke."

Paul had earlier maintained that extreme dehydration is a necessary symptom of heatstroke, and Hughes challenged him on that point as well, quoting from Paul's own documentation to make his point that "the medical literature does not include lack of dehydration as sign or symptom of (non-exertional) heatstroke."

The reason for that omission, Paul explained, is that non-exertional heatstroke most often affects the very old and the very young. Older people, he said, often have underlying health issues that excessive heat can exacerbate, while very young people are simply not developed enough to resist the dangers.

Hughes also pointed out that Paul's point that Neuman's blood pressure was too high to justify a diagnosis of heatstroke was at least partly inaccurate, as her medical records showed a great deal of pressure fluctuation while she was hospitalized in the days after the event.

"All I can say is with heatstroke you'd expect to find consistently low blood pressure," Paul countered. "The reason I mention the high blood pressure is that it is one of the side effects of the organophosphate toxicity."

At one point, Paul became somewhat annoyed at Hughes' repeated references to the background materials.

"You're implying that my entire report is based on those three articles," he said. "Just because it doesn't appear in those articles doesn't mean it isn't published. I can't provide you with everything I've read in the last 10 years.

"I think the big issue here is trying to reconcile this constellation of symptoms that these patients have. They all have the same constellation of symptoms that are not specific for heatstroke, and they are consistent for organophosphate toxicity."

On redirect examination, defense attorney Truc Do elicited Paul's agreement that only the state's paid expert witness, Dr. Matthew Dickson of Yuma, said under oath that he was "99 percent" certain that the three deaths were the result of heatstroke suffered in the sweat lodge. Two previous medical examiners, Dr. Robert Lyon and Dr. A. L. Mosley, and critical care physician Dr. Brent Cutshall, who treated Neuman at Flagstaff Medical Center, previously testified and allowed for the possibility that organophosphate poisoning was a factor.

The owners of the Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center, Michael and Amyra Hamilton, the site of the Spiritual Warrior seminar, also testified previously and told the jury that the toxins were never used on their property prior to the event.

With Paul's testimony complete, the defense was prepared to rest until Judge Warren Darrow cautioned them not to do so with evidentiary issues still unresolved. Those issues include the admission as exhibits client files, participant waivers and portions of audio recordings.

Discussion of those issues is to continue today, and the state plans to call as many as three rebuttal witnesses next week.

Tentative scheduling calls for the jury to begin deliberations by Friday, June 17.


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