By Tim Gaynor
PRESCOTT, Ariz (Reuters) - A judge sentenced self-help guru James Ray on Friday to two years in jail for the deaths of three people following a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona two years ago.
Ray was sentenced to three two-year terms for the deaths of James Shore, Liz Neuman and Kirby Brown, who died after attending a personal growth seminar he led near Sedona, Arizona, in 2009. The terms were to run concurrently.
"There is a factor of deterrence that is very prominent in this case," Yavapai County Superior Court judge Warren R. Darrow said. "I find the aggravating circumstance is so strong that probation is simply not warranted in this case."
The fatal sweat lodge ceremony cut short Ray's dazzling rise in the personal development industry, peddling a "harmonic wealth" philosophy that promised to "unlock the secret to true wealth and fulfillment" in clients' lives.
Career high points included appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN's Larry King Live, according to his website.
A jury in June found Ray guilty on three counts of negligent homicide. He faced a maximum sentence of three years in jail on each count.
"I want to convey my deepest sorrow to the families of Liz, James and Kirby," Ray, weeping, told the families packed into the court before sentencing. "I'm sorry for the pain and anguish ... I brought to your lives."
"If there was anything I could do to turn back the clock I would, but I can't," he added. "I'm so sorry."
Ray's attorneys said they would appeal the sentence.
'NOT WORTHY TO SPIT SHINE THEIR BOOTS'
The dead were among 56 participants who paid nearly $10,000 each to take part in Ray's "spiritual warrior" retreat, and were crammed into a four-foot tall sweat lodge, packed with superheated rocks, at the ceremony.
Shore, 40, and Brown, 38, were pronounced dead at the scene, while Neuman, 49, died several days later at a hospital in Flagstaff.
Addressing the court prior to the sentencing, Neuman's cousin, Lily Clark, said Ray had manipulated and exploited his clients.
"There was nothing, nothing, you could teach Liz, Kirby and James about honor and integrity," she said, speaking directly to Ray, who avoided her gaze.
"They were born spiritual warriors, you are not worthy to spit shine their combat boots."
Ray avoided her gaze, looking straight ahead of him.
The day after the deaths, television news images of the sweat dome showed a low, windowless structure, covered in black roofing material, a far cry from the aura of glamour and wealth portrayed by the lucrative personal development industry.
Sweat or medicine lodges -- smaller domed or oblong structures warmed with heated stones -- have traditionally been used in ceremonies by some Native American cultures.
In addition to the jail terms, Ray was also ordered to pay restitution of $57,514.12 to the victims' families.
George Brown, the father of Kirby Brown, described how his family had been devastated by their loss and urged Darrow to hold Ray "accountable to the fullest measure of the law.
"I've woken up numerous times, feeling the bed just gently moving to the sobs of my wife, dreaming again about the death of her daughter," Brown said.
"I and my family have been given a life sentence of grief and sorrow," he added.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)