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It was still dark when Jenny Brown woke up, it was Saturday, October 17th, 2009, nine days since her daughter Kirby had died in Sedona next to her closet. Jenny had laid out a pair of black heels, a black suit and a black jacket with dark blue accents. She put them on. Then she put on a gold and white sapphire necklace that Kirby had made and walked outside.
When we were in the in the car going to the funeral, I had said to the kids, our children, you're going to have to be very careful now to make sure that your anger over this and your sadness at losing your sister doesn't destroy your life and doesn't cause you to not be able to experience joy and beauty and goodness and love.
Be careful about that, because then then he would have taken another victim in our family. And I'm not going to let that happen.
Friends and family packed the holy name of Jesus Church not far from where Kirby grew up in Westtown, New York. They sat in pews and lined the walls, sharing memories and anecdotes. Some relatives called her their action figure, a cousin, a title they gave to her for her willingness to try anything from surfing to limo driving to moving anywhere in the world on a whim. Her cousin, Bob Magnini, loved that about her.
She was that kind of person, was really vibrant and alive, was running up mountains and mountain biking, and she looked like a marathon runner.
Ginny wanted to remember Kirby as she was false at all, and that we all know that she really was a pain in the neck sometimes, you know, and was bossy because, you know, when someone dies, especially in a situation like this, they become sanctified, you know, when everyone kind of forgets their humanness.
After the funeral, Ginny's husband, George, gathered the family in the living room. He just said, how angry are you at Kirby? Well, that she didn't believe that she believed him, that what we tried to give her wasn't enough. In the months that followed, Jenny carried Kirby's memory with her everywhere she'd wear her daughter's clothes and boho jewelry around the house and while running errands.
I've been in situations where, you know, I'm debating should I purchase this? This happened to me when I was looking for a kitchen table. And, you know, I hear in my head Kirby's saying, Mom, you've been looking for this for ten years, for God's sake, spend them, spend the money.
When the hurt felt like too much to bear, she'd give herself pep talks. You've got to be strong. She'd tell herself you're not going to collapse. But she couldn't answer that nagging question. I felt angry and we all did. You know, how could you have allowed yourself to be duped by this guy?
It was a question lots of people were asking themselves. Why had Kirby and the others followed James into that hot tent? And as temperatures rose, why had they stayed? Jenny had asked those questions. Investigators had to. And then a year and a half after Kirby was laid to rest, those questions finally went before a jury. Jenny and George Brown packed their suitcases and set off for Arizona. We are pleased to have simply safe as our presenting sponsor, what's the number one sign of a bad home security system, a home security system that's so complicated you never use it?
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This is Episode four, remember, you must die. The day before James Arthur Ray's trial began, Jinyan, George Brown flew from New York to Phoenix and drove about 100 miles north. They met up with Kirby's younger brother and her cousin, Bob Magnini, who had flown in from New Jersey that same day. Bob's also a lawyer, and he'd agreed to represent the family in a wrongful death civil case against James. He also planned to join them for the criminal trial.
So the next morning, they all made the drive to the Yavapai County Superior Courthouse in Camp Verde, Arizona. It's a block of 10 brick and glass abutting a long stretch of highway about 30 miles south of Sedona.
When they parked, Jenny took a deep breath and whispered a silent prayer to herself. She squeezed her husband's hand for a moment. She felt calm. Then the media swarmed them. We had been warned and told, do not speak to anybody. Anything that you say to the media could disrupt the trial. You really can't make any statements. You can't say anything. This group of people that we can't talk to that want to talk to us and are pressing in around us, it was scary and and very disorienting.
How did we get here?
How how has how has this become our life?
She and George rushed past the crowd of reporters and into the courthouse.
It's a beautiful building where you walk down a hallway in this world class and on one side of the hallway and you looking out onto the red rocks of Sedona, they were shown to courtroom number two.
Forty three. What immediately struck me was how small it was.
And I kept thinking, wow, this is so small for such a big story.
Their seats in the front row were only a few feet from the judge, the jury, the witness stand and the wooden defense table only a few feet from James Ray. That first day, James had his back to Jenny. She felt her face flush with anger.
I don't like this guy and I think he's a scammer and a charlatan. So there's a feeling of dread and disgust looking at him.
James had been arrested four months after the tragedy and held on five million dollars bail. But his lawyers got the amount reduced to a tenth of that and he'd been out free for more than a year. Jenny was angry, but she held it together. She had to.
And there's this sense or this fear that if I let myself really feel what I feel, I'm not going to be in control of my actions in this place. And I need to be in control of my actions. I can't, you know, run up to him and start screaming at him because then I'm not going to be allowed to sit in this courtroom and hear the proceedings. Finally, the prosecuting attorney, Sheila Polk, who is dressed in a light colored jacket, began her opening statement.
The man who promised Kirby, James and Liz enlightenment and success if they followed him and endured intense and searing heat conditions in his sweat lodge is James Ray. Seated over at the defense table.
James had told the victims to play full on, she said, and they had trusted him by the time they entered his sweat lodge. All the participants were exhausted, mentally weak and fully conditioned to follow Mr. Ray's instructions.
In the opening for the defense, James's lawyer argued that what happened in Sedona was a tragic accident, but it wasn't a crime. He pointed out that participants had signed not one but two waivers before the event. James hadn't forced anyone to go in and hadn't forced anyone to stay.
And you don't have to take my word for it. You're going to hear witnesses tell you each and every one of them. Yeah, I'm an adult. I could leave.
Nobody forced me. People choose for themselves. Jenny had to work to keep herself calm. It was the beginning of what I want to call the emotional numbing of making it possible for me to sit in the room to watch the trial of my own daughter's death. Sitting at the back of the courtroom, Cheryl Wakin felt for Jenny and I just wanted to assure her whether it was in just our presence, that we were there in support of her and we weren't going to go anywhere.
She had driven more than an hour to be there in court that morning.
I am a member of the Arkema them in Yellow River, which is about 10 miles south of Phoenix, Arizona. We are part of the them tribes. There's four bands that extend down to northern Mexico.
Cheryl was one of several native people from Arizona and beyond who had resolved to be there for the trial.
She could tell they stood out. People tended to stare when they walked in. But that was exactly the point.
My attendance at the sweat lodge trial was to have a presence as a silent voice for the native communities who still practice the sweat lodge ceremony. The sweat lodge came to me when I was a young girl, and so I've always taught that to my children and my grandchildren. So they have all participated and we've utilized the sweat lodge as a means of healing and cleansing.
When she first heard about what had happened, that spiritual warrior Cheryl had been horrified.
My jaw dropped to the ground. It was just such a negative feeling that came over all of us, my kids included. It was almost to the point that some of us had tears in our eyes because that is so unheard of that something that horrible would happen. As she followed the story and saw the pictures, her shock mixed with anger. What James had built didn't look anything like the sweat lodge as she knew it looked like a circus tent.
It was a tent with plastic tarps and different things put in there. And either that was created quickly or it was created to hold just like a circus, a huge amount of people. And what do you do when you go into the circus? You pay money. Making money from something so sacred seemed wrong to Cheryl. In fact, the way the ceremony had been run seemed wrong in many ways.
Leading a sweat lodge ceremony is a heavy responsibility. And Cheryl felt like the man who had led the ceremony at Spiritual Warrior had failed the people who trusted him on that first day in court. She paid particular attention to James.
He was there with his legal dream team there. So it did portray to me a picture of somebody with money, somebody who's used to being in control, somebody who maybe hasn't had to account for very much.
From the back of the courtroom, she watched as the two sides finished their opening statements and began to call witnesses.
Miss Tucker, if you please begin by stating your full name and spelling your first name.
My name is Laura and Tucker. Alejandre Laura Tucker was dressed in a somber black blouse covered by a black jacket from where she sat on the witness stand. She could see Ginny Brown sitting on the front bench. Sheila Polk asked Laura to identify James. Seeing James for the first time was really hard and it was sad.
I've had every single emotion there is about James Arthur Ray, and it was a really difficult day because there's a part of me always that has had empathy for him.
Since leaving Sedona, Laura had worked hard to rebuild her life. Now she was about to dive right back into the horror of what happened that day. It felt personal, private, but that's not how it was being treated. Those early days of the trial were all being broadcast live on CNN. I believe I actually wanted to remain a private citizen and not be on TV. So I tried to ask the judge to turn it off.
Watching her journey was impressed.
The first thing she did was question the cameras being there.
And I thought to myself, this is a brave woman here, you know, was ready to kind of confront this right off the bat and make it comfortable for her.
But the judge denied Laura's request. He was not having any of it. And, you know, I kind of felt like, OK, little girl, nice try.
So with cameras on her, Laura began slowly, methodically to retell the story of what happened under the tarp of James's so-called sweat lodge. Laura seemed to be weighing each word carefully as she spoke.
My perception was that the stage was being set for a situation that would potentially provide us with a break through experience at no time when Mr. Ray was speaking about. You know, feeling like I was dying or anything like that, did I take it literally?
I hated sitting up there telling what happened. I did not look forward to it. I did not enjoy it. It did not take any ounce of pleasure.
But I understood that when you are called to trial and when you're sitting on that stand, you tell the truth as you experienced it over several hours, Laura shared everything how she'd learned about James through the secret, how she'd gone to one of his events, how she'd become a member of the dream team, and about those first days at Spiritual Warrior.
What was the most challenging event of the week of physically the most challenging event of the week was the sweat lodge. Mentally, the most challenging event for me was the hair once you had decided to shave your head. Did that make the other events easier for you? I don't know that it made them any easier. It may have it certainly took some kind of a burden off with regards to the hair shaving or cutting. There was a a fair amount of pressure.
While Laura Tucker spoke, James Ray sat at the defense table beside his lawyers, fingers on his chin, a look of concentration on his face. From the beginning, James, his lawyers had criticized the idea that it had been hard for participants to say no to him or to back out of a challenge in his opening statement. One lawyer warned the jury that the prosecution would go out of its way to make normal activities sound sinister. The samurai game.
That was a common corporate exercise used by companies like AT&T, he said. Like a trust fall and the head shaving people could choose to cut their hair or not. James would just ask them to consider why they didn't. This might not be your cup of tea, he told the jury. But in America, everyone has the right to make choices for themselves. Wonderings New True Crime podcast, The apology line begins with Alan Bridge posting flyers around New York City asking people to anonymously apologize for their crimes, not to God, not to the police, but to his answering machine.
I guess what I do is I just say I'm sorry, sorry. I'm sorry to make apologies for it, but I broke in. I am over 400000 or I killed the man I killed.
Henry Allen got dozens of calls from people claiming to be murderers, but one stood out. Richie and his calls would leave thousands wondering if he really was the serial killer he claimed to be until Richie offered to provide proof that apology.
Would you expect for me to send you pictures of that clothesline next time? I have someone to hear?
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Feel the story.
Laura Tucker's time on the stand was grueling, both prosecution and defense used it as an opportunity to hammer their points home to answer questions about her judgment inside the tent, why she didn't leave, why she and others ignored their bodies.
Warning signs toward the end. Prosecutors asked Laura if the memory she'd recounted were difficult. Is it an event that you would like to forget? It's an event that I would prefer never happened. I saw a strong woman who was really hurt, really hurt, and was struggling to be fair and honest. After watching Laura's testimony, Ginny Brown needed a break. She was just about to leave the courtroom when she noticed Laura walking toward her and Laura after her testimony, asked if she could talk to us.
She's really the only one who did.
The court had set aside a special room for victims and the prosecution's witnesses to take a break, rest and recover. Ginny called it her safe space. She and Laura went there to talk. She just wanted to tell us a little bit about Kirby.
And she said, every time I think of her, I smile because she just had that kind of energy and she was so amazing and I'm so, so sorry.
And I'm like, oh, gosh, there's some humanity here. There's some emotion happening. Someone cares that my daughter is dead.
For a long time, Laura had been struggling to recover from what had happened. It had been hard going back to work with a shaved head and the knowledge that her coworkers knew a little of what had happened or thought they knew.
The one thing she said that really struck with me. And I know that I know this was the case for a lot of people who were there, she said. I just don't want to be portrayed as a cult member. And for many of the people who were there in Sedona, they went home to people calling them cult followers.
Cheryl Wakin stayed in the courtroom day after day watching each witness take the stand. She didn't see James as victims, as cult members. They just were misled, misled in particular about what a sweat lodge ceremony was.
Even for the encouragement Mr. Ray was giving was that you have to die before you're born. And that, to me, didn't sit well. Now they do refer in the sweat lodge that it's like being back in the womb of Mother Earth and that when you're cleansing yourself with the heat and prayers and songs, that it's similar to being reborn when you come out because your sicknesses, you leave them behind and you're cleansed and you're reborn. But I've never heard that you die in order to be reborn.
After court had finished that day, Cheryl gathered with the families of the victims. She wanted to let them know that she understood what they'd lost.
Being a mother and grandmother, I've learned to understand that when we go through a period of loss or mourning or just trying to understand, you know, the choices that our children make, that in the end, you know, we can only be assured that we did the best we could in teaching and raising them choices they make we have no control over. She hoped Ginny could see that, too.
From what I've heard, her daughter had a gift, a spiritual gift to be able to connect in a positive way and to see the better side of things. And to me, that something that is a strong positive Ginny needed that kind of encouragement. She tossed and turned in bed most nights scenes from the trial on a loop in her mind, all those stories about Kirby's final hours.
It was like going into the coroner's office and watching the autopsy over and over and over again.
At the end of the second week, she and George flew back home. I just felt so exhausted and beaten up I wanted to go back and hear more, but I didn't.
When I was at home, people were sending us reports telling us what was going on. It was on TV.
Now, this is the third week of the trial that could last for months or more. The prosecution just submitted some changes to its witness list. This new list has seventy eight names on it, according to my count, were around 10. Morio Blackwolf reflects on what he calls the prostitution of his ancient tradition.
Unfortunately, this just demonstrates how many fake people there are that manipulate native traditions after almost three weeks of testimony. Jurors heard for the first positive words, the trial dragged on.
Weeks turned to months. In April, Detective Ross Discon took the stand on the I don't like to get in front of people and talk. So I've never been a public speaker, you know, so that was difficult to overcome that.
Throughout the trial, James's lawyers challenged Ross. They questioned his investigation. They challenged his conclusions. They even suggested that the deaths at Spiritual Warrior had nothing to do with heat. The defense argued that instead pesticides called organic phosphates had poisoned the victims. We had no idea that that was going to be the defense, that this was organophosphate poisoning. But Ross knew that this wasn't true from his conversations with a mirror and Michael Hamilton, who owned the Angel Valley retreat.
The Hamiltons don't use poisons. They don't believe in poisons for pest control. They believe that they can talk to the insects and get them to go away. Still, the prosecution called in an expert to assess whether Kirby Brown and the others could have died from chemical poisoning. The jury never bought it and the argument was ridiculous, but we didn't know if the jury was going to buy it. So now we had to go into all that. And for all the time spent on what he considered frivolous arguments, Ross was also aware how much he couldn't say.
Having to testify on the witness stand is so frustrating and it's very difficult. I don't know anybody that likes to testify in trial. I have to be careful about what I say. I can't mention something that the judge had already ordered doesn't come into trial. One thing he wasn't allowed to mention was that James had gone too far in his heat endurance challenges before. Ross really wanted the jury to know more about what had happened to James's earlier events at Angel Valley.
But the judge wouldn't allow him to go into much detail. James's lawyers argued that talking about it would bias the jury, and the judge agreed.
Back home in New York, Ginny Brown tried to distract herself with work. She was only partly successful. She couldn't shake the fear that things weren't going well for the prosecution. There was so much information that the prosecution could never get in front of the jury.
And the judge really seemed to be so intimidated by Ray's lawyers, he was terrified of there being a mistrial. And and it really felt like he was constantly bending over to accommodate them and to listen to all of their ridiculous arguments instead of and instead of not allowing them.
So our concern was that, oh, my gosh, is he even going to be convicted of anything?
On June 22nd, 2011, she was teaching an anger management class in Middletown, New York.
I'm teaching my class and I can see my phone is kind of blowing up. She turned her phone to silent, but she was pretty sure she knew what was happening.
As soon as the class was over, I checked all the messages and the voice mails.
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By now you've been introduced to James Arthur Ray, whose methods pushed some to their limits, giving them the transformative experience they dreamed of and killing others. What was the fallout of the Spiritual Warrior retreat? What happened to the victims and to James Arthur Ray to find out right now? Binge all six episodes, add free by starting your 30 day free trial of one degree plus in the new Wonder app. Download the app today.
The clerk will read and record the verdicts as the jury foreman read the verdict. James Ray sat in an open collared blue shirt and blazer. His hair close cropped. His lead lawyer placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. He dropped his head on the most serious charge of manslaughter, the one that carried up to thirty six years.
Do you find the defendant, James Arthur Ray, on the offense of manslaughter as a result of the death of Kirby Brown as follows? Not guilty.
Not guilty, but on a lesser charge.
Do you find the defendant, James Arthur Ray, on the offense of negligent homicide as a result of the death of Kirby Brown as follows guilty?
James tried to remain stoic through the reading of the verdict. He looked like he was fighting back tears. Ginny Brown raced back home from her anger management class.
He just he was he was not convicted of the right crime. All I could think of was negligent homicide. What do they think? He's a drunk driver. It was manslaughter. He knew what he was doing was dangerous.
Her family was waiting for her at her house.
Bobby Magnini was there. The local news twelve had already left and Bobby had provided them with a statement.
Jennie, George and Bob went back to Arizona for the hearings that would determine how much time James would spend behind bars. A manslaughter conviction would have meant that he knew his heat endurance challenge could kill people, but that he'd chosen to go ahead with it anyway. Instead, the negligent homicide conviction meant that while he'd been irresponsible, he hadn't known that people would die. As a result, James was facing a lower prison sentence up to six years, or possibly only probation, with no more jail time.
To Jenny, it was insulting.
In November 2011, just before sentencing, she attended the mitigation hearing. This was the part of sentencing where James's lawyers would try and show that he didn't deserve to go to prison. The mitigation hearing was a full week parade of people coming on saying how wonderful he was, how he had changed their life, and he was so great. A veteran told the court that James's teachings had kept him from suicide.
Another follower said James helped him to form a better relationship with his family and become a healthier person. In all, two dozen people testified on James's behalf.
It was nauseating to sit through that really difficult.
Jenny poured her feelings into her journal. Eventually, she wrote her victim's statement and read it in court.
Listening to your attorney, Mr. Ray, declare that my daughter's death was statistically insignificant, was especially egregious, and at the end of the day, it was too hot. You made it that way and you caused these deaths to take place. And you still have not accept responsibility for the fact that these were your decisions, not a whole defense that said, oh, they died because it was their decision to stay. It was your decision to create the circumstances that orchestrated these deaths.
James Ray also spoke to the courtroom that day. He wore a black suit. His hair cropped short and neat. He looked somber, but composed as he stood and began addressing the judge. His eyes began to well up. His voice broke.
Oh, I'm sorry or distressed.
I wish to God I would have stopped immediately had I known it was very hard to listen to him cry in front of us and say, I am so sorry this happened. I wanted to scream and say I'm sorry it happened too. But that's not apologizing to me. He said, I'm so sorry this happened. I may have made mistakes in judgment. That's not an apology. Mr. Ray, when a person has your incredible abilities to gain people's trust, there is a large, large responsibility that goes with that trust.
The judge ordered James to spend two years behind bars and to pay nearly sixty thousand dollars in restitution. He was sent to the Eagle Point unit of the Arizona Department of Corrections complex at Lewis, a prison buried in the arid mountainous desert southwest of Phoenix. Laura Tucker knew the sentencing wouldn't totally resolve things.
The minute I heard what the sentence was, my first thought was, well, nobody's going to be happy. Nobody, because if I'm Kirby's parents or James Shaw's family or Liz's family, two years is going to seem like nothing. And if I'm James's loved one, two years and a verdict is going to seem like too much. For Cheryl walking, the outcome was also mixed. The case had been a media sensation and brought some attention to the misuse of native traditions.
But she also had to listen day after day to descriptions of how the sweat lodge ceremony had been misused.
It was another hit in our kneecaps. The only thing I can say is native people.
All we have is our bodies and our spirituality. And if it wasn't for prayer and ceremony, then we wouldn't be here. We've survived. And the only thing that we can acknowledge and seek comfort in is that through prayer and ceremony, that our ancestors prayed for our survival. And so we're here and we're still strong in our spirit. It did have an impact. It did have an impact on us as well. And like I said, our prayers and our our wishes for healing have always went to the family and to the victims of Mr.
Ray and what he did. But it's not up to me to forgive him or judge him. That will be done when his time comes.
The fact that James got any prison time at all gave Kirby's family some relief. But the journey, it didn't feel like justice.
He didn't get sentenced until November of 2011, so he had already had quite a bit of time of freedom. We had almost served our two years without Kirby.
The whole kind of sentencing was a bizarre thing to me. So I was still kind of disgruntled and aggravated. Kirby's cousin, the lawyer Bob Magnini, felt James's actions deserved a tougher sentence and a longer punishment. My background coming from 30 years in the US Army. You don't leave your people behind. You don't leave people you're responsible for in the tent.
Still, he and Ginny knew that when James got out of prison, they wanted to do everything they could to ensure he would never hurt anyone again. And it was this resolve, this steely resolve that this should not have happened. It was wrong. And I was going to do everything in my ability to bring some kind of positive purpose from this ridiculous event.
By this time, the Browns civil case had been settled and Bob was putting together another civil lawsuit against James, and he'd uncovered something that the jury didn't know, that the event in Sedona was not the first time death had come to James Ray's events. From one three, this is Episode four of six of Guru, a story about the dangers and the dark side of enlightenment.
The next episode will be out in a week. But if you want to listen right now, all six episodes are available on one to read plus and on the one to recap. If you want to help us spread the word, please give us a five star rating and a review on Apple podcasts. And be sure to tell your friends subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, the Wonder App or wherever you're listening right now. Join Wonder E-Plus in the Wonder app to listen ad free for more detail on James Arthur Ray and the scandal that shocked the self-help industry.
Check out the podcast Real Crime Profile. As professional criminal profilers and analysts, they break down the criminal behavior of James Arthur Ray to figure out what he was thinking and why he did what he did. In these pivotal moments, you can find real crime profile on Apple podcasts, Spotify or add free on the Wonder App Court clips in this episode, courtesy of CNN. This episode was written and reported by me.
Matt Stroud, associate producer, is a SEAL Kippy story editor is Casey Miner, Sound Design by Jeff Schmidt, fact checking by Sara Maclure. Producer is Alex Blonsky, managing producer is Lacka Pandian and executive producers are Jorge Lavender Marshmallowy and Hernan Lopez for wondering.