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It was still dark when Ginny Brown woke up. It was Saturday, October 17th, 2009. Nine days since her daughter Kirby died in Sedona next to her closet. Ginny 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 go into the funeral, I had said to the kids, 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. I'm not going to let that happen.
Friends and family pack 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. 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 Magnani, love that about her.
She was that kind of person was really, you know, vibrant and alive, was running up mountains and mountain biking and she'd go like a marathon runner.
Ginny wanted to remember Kirby as she was false and all 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? All agree that she didn't leave, that she believed, Tim, that what we tried to give her wasn't enough. In the months that followed, Ginny 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 you? I was looking for a kitchen table. And, you know, I hear in my head, Kirby, 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. And she couldn't answer that nagging question. Angry. And we all did. 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? Ginny 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. Ginny and George Brown packed their suitcases and set off for Arizona. We are pleased to have simply safe as our presenting sponsor.
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I'm Matt Stroud and this is Guru. This is Episode four. Remember, you must die. The day before James Arthur Ray's trial began, Jinyan and 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 Magnani, 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 plan 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 in a pressing in around us.
It was scary and and very disorienting. How did we get here? How how has how has this become on 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 and this will Classon on one side of the hallway and you looking out onto the red rocks of Sedona.
They were shown to courtroom number 243. 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 then 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 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, his 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 in.
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 Walking 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 more out them in Heeler 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 this 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 utilize 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 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 L. a.. You are a 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 Pope 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. 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, Jeannie 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, is ready to kind of confront this right off the bat and make it comfortable for her.
But the judge denied Laura's request was not having any of it. And, you know, I kind of felt like, okay, 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 show. 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? Well, 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 with regards to the hair shaving or cutting. There was 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's 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. Sounds 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. I'm Marissa Jones, host of the Vanished from Gundry each week on the Vanished. We take you beyond the headlines and explore a different missing persons case. Speaking with family, friends, law enforcement and experts this week, we're covering the disappearance of Jacob Cavanaugh.
Back in March of 2010, Jacob was playing for his big golf with some friends in Traverse City, Michigan. He told them that he was going home to finish an assignment for one of his college courses. Jacob never made it home. And authorities followed his phone pings and debit card transactions all the way from Michigan to Texas. And then it all just stopped a couple days after Jacob was last seen. This case is a puzzling mystery because no one has any clue why he would have made that journey or what may have happened to Jacob.
To hear Jacob story and many more subscribe to the vanished on Apple podcast Spotify or add free on Wonder replies.
Hi, I'm Rufus Griscom, the host of Winery's Show. The next big idea where we bring you ideas that might just change the way you see the world. Does it sometimes feel like you spend your days putting out little fires, solving an endless series of annoying problems? That's just life, right? Nothing you can do. But what if you could solve your problems before they become problems? That's the big idea I'm talking about this week with Dan Heath, best selling author of the new book Upstream.
Subscribe to the next big idea and other great wonders shows on Apple podcast, Spotify, the Wandering App, or wherever you're listening right now. 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. She didn't leave. Why she and others ignored their bodies. Warning signs. Toward the end, prosecutors asked Laura if the memories she'd recounted were difficult.
Is it any 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 I 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 back, 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, 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 co-workers 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 Walkin 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 were 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 the prayers and the song, that it's similar to being reborn when you come out because your sicknesses, you leave them behind in your cleansed, in your 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 a 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 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 Jeannie 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 78 names on it, according to my count.
Around 10, Morio Blackwolf reflects on what he calls the prostitution of his ancient tradition.
Unfortunately, this just demonstrated 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 Diskin took the stand on that. I don't like to get in front of people and talk. So I've never been a public speaker. So that was difficult to overcome that throughout the trial.
James, his 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. This was we're getting phosphate poisoning. But Ross knew that this wasn't true from his conversations with a Meyera 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. 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 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 earlier events at Angel Valley.
But the judge wouldn't allow him to go into much detail. James, his 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 being a mistrial. 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 my 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. She was pretty sure she knew what was happening.
As soon as the class was over, I, you know, checked all the messages and the voice mails.
A verdict had come in. I'm Lindsey Graham, host of Wonderings Show American Scandal. We bring to light some of the biggest controversies in U.S. history presidential lies, environmental disasters, corporate fraud. In our new series. We head back to the 1990s when big tobacco face a day of reckoning. Whistleblowers came forward, exposed countless lies about cigarettes, addiction and cancer. But the tobacco industry fought back and soon found itself at the center of a legal battle that would change history.
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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 wondering plus in the new wondering 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 36 years.
Do you find the defendant, James Arthur Ray, on the offensive 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 convict of the right crime. All I could think of was negligent homicide. What did 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, he was there. The local news 12 had already left. And Bobby had provided them with his 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 her life, and he was so great.
A veteran told the court that James, his 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 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.
There was distress. I wish to God I would have stopped immediately.
I know 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 60 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 am 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 is left one, two years and a verdict is going to seem like too much. For Cheryl Walkin. 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 the impact. It didn't have the impact on us as well. And like I said, our prayers and our our wishes for healing have always went out 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 Jini, 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 his actions deserved a tougher sentence and a longer punishment. My background coming from 30 years in the U.S. Army. You don't leave your people behind. You don't meet people you're responsible for in the 10.
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 Free 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 Kipe story. Editor is Casey Miner, Sound Design by Jeff Schmidt. Fact checking by Sarah Maclure. Producer is Alex de Blonsky, managing producer is LACA Pandya and executive producers are Jorge Lavender, Marshall Lui and Hernan Lopez for wondering.