CAMP VERDE, Ariz. — A woman told jurors Friday that one of three people who died in an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony refused help when she appeared to be suffering from the heat in the structure, but said she didn't believe the victim's condition was life-threatening.
Laura Tucker said she told the ceremony's leader, James Arthur Ray, that Liz Neuman was having problems, but that the self-help guru replied Neuman knew how to handle the conditions. She said she asked Neuman if she needed to leave, and that Neuman responded with a prompt "no."
Tucker was testifying in the manslaughter trial of Ray, who has pleaded not guilty in the three deaths.
"I had no idea that there was any cause for immediate concern beyond that," Tucker said during cross-examination by defense attorney Truc Do. "If I had, I would have done everything within my power to stop it and get her out. And that's what I wished happened."
One of Ray's attorneys said during opening statements that Neuman's refusal of help showed no one knew she would die. Tucker repeatedly affirmed that she had a choice on whether to participate in each of the events during a weeklong program with Ray.
Prosecutors have said that Ray conditioned the participants to trust him and many remained in the sweat lodge to please him, despite the extreme temperature. They say Neuman's behavior in the ceremony can be explained by confusion caused by heat exposure.
Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minn., never regained consciousness following the sweat lodge ceremony and died more than a week later. Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, also died.
Neuman was part of Ray's "Dream Team," a group of volunteers that helped guide the participants through the week's events that included breathing exercises, a 36-hour vision quest in the wilderness without food or water, and the sweat lodge. At least one member of the group was stationed in each direction of the sweat lodge, and Neuman sat next to Tucker.
Tucker's concern for Neuman arose when the Minnesota woman began positioning herself in ways that were contrary to the advice she gave Tucker. Instead of turning away from the heated rocks, Neuman bowed low to the ground with her head toward the rocks, Tucker said. Neuman later leaned back on Tucker's legs to support herself.
Tucker, a resident of Kelowna in the Canadian province of British Columbia, left the sweat lodge after the two-hour ceremony ended with Neuman and others still inside. She said it appeared that Ray and others were shocked by the chaos that unfolded afterward as CPR was being performed on participants and others were doused with water to cool down.
Brown was among those who reportedly didn't have a pulse when emergency responders arrived.
Prosecutors were preparing to play an audio recording late Friday that they say will prove that Ray was aware of Brown's mental state and the determination with which she approached the sweat lodge ceremony.
Defense attorneys objected, saying it was hearsay, highly prejudicial and that there was no way to determine its authenticity.
The recording will be played during the testimony of Jennifer Haley, who served as a volunteer for Ray during the event, if it is allowed by the judge. Prosecutors say Haley was aware of Brown's disappointment with herself in an earlier game that Ray played with participants.
The trial resumes Tuesday.