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Self-Help Guru Sentenced To Two Years In Prison Over Sweat Lodge Deaths

The self-help guru responsible for three deaths at a 2009 sweat lodge ceremony in the Arizona desert was sentenced to two years in prison, today.

At his sentencing James Arthur Ray begged for forgiveness. The AP reports:

"Ray said during his sentencing hearing that he would have stopped the ceremony near Sedona had he known people were dying or in distress. He turned to the more than a dozen family members seated in the courtroom, tearfully taking full responsibility for the pain and anguish he caused them.

"'At the end of the day, I lost three friends, and I lost them on my watch,' he said. 'Whatever errors in judgment or mistakes I have made, I'm going to have to live with those for the rest of my life. I truly understand your disappointment in my actions after, I do. I'm disappointed in myself. I don't have any excuse.'"

Ray was the organizer of a sweat lodge ceremony in the Arizona desert where the temperature of the lodge was set to a dangerously high temperature. CNN reports that Ray's attorneys asked for probation, but the sentencing judge said "the evidence shows 'extreme negligence on the part of Mr. Ray.'"

CNN adds:

The lodge, made of willow trees and branches and covered with tarpaulins and blankets, was heated to a perilously high temperature, causing the participants to suffer dehydration and heatstroke, prosecutors alleged.

They also said Ray didn't monitor the temperature inside the lodge or the well-being of participants and was indifferent to those having trouble.

Ray's lawyers countered that the deaths were the result of a tragic accident, not a crime. They asked witnesses who were in the sweat lodge whether they signed a release form warning them of the dangers. All replied that they signed, but some said they didn't read the form.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.