Witness says James Ray saved his life
The defense intends to present eight or nine more witnesses, including Ray’s mother and brother, over the next two days before Ray’s sentencing on Friday.
11/15/2011 8:23:00 PM
By Mark Duncan
PRESCOTT - Jack Lane, a former staff sergeant in the United States Army, believes he owes his life to James Arthur Ray.
In the first of three days of presentence mitigation hearings for Ray, who faces anything from probation to nine years in prison after his June conviction on three counts of negligent homicide, Lane told the court he had become certain he would end his own life.
Suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress, Lane said his return to civilian life was a daily challenge.
"I experienced a lot of depression, a lot of flashbacks of combat," Lane said. "It built up to a point where I could no longer see all the honorable qualities in myself and express them as a veteran."
Earlier this year, as Ray's trial over the October 2009 deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman after a sweat lodge ceremony Ray led was about to begin, Lane overheard some Vietnam veterans discussing motivational speakers at a VA hospital.
He found Ray and some others on the Internet and decided to take a chance and contact Ray on Facebook, unaware of the imminent trial.
"I felt as if what he was saying was in relation to how I was feeling," Lane said. "I did take a chance but not with the expectation of ever hearing from him."
But Ray did respond, and met with Lane, who said Tuesday that Ray never asked for payment while showing a great deal of respect and compassion.
Lane credits Ray with ameliorating his PTSD condition and says the two had begun to loosely develop plans to make Ray's services available to veterans worldwide.
"I truly believe that it could be done on a global scale," Lane said. "I really believe we could have a huge impact, both foreign and domestic."
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk declined to cross-examine Lane, merely thanking him for his service. Judge Warren Darrow then allowed Lane to make a statement, in which he expressed sympathy for the family and friends of the three victims in the case before again crediting Ray for his own recovery.
"At the time that I met with Mr. Ray, I truly wanted to end my life and Mr. Ray, I truly believed, helped me," Lane said. "He saved a life."
The defense's other two witnesses on Tuesday did not receive such gentle treatment from Polk, who is seeking the maximum allowable prison term for Ray.
Jennifer Kwasny told the court she is a former probation officer who now works as a program director for Big Brothers/Big Sisters in Hawaii. She said her undertaking of Ray's teachings had led to numerous improvements in her life, including her ability to quit smoking, become a homeowner and free herself from a bad relationship.
Kwasny said that, thanks to Ray, she was able "to understand that my life was in my control, that I needed to take action in order to succeed in my own way."
As a former probation officer supervising at times both adults and children, Kwasny said she believed Ray would do well if granted probation.
"I think he would be a great candidate, a stellar candidate for probation," she said, adding that she believed he would almost certainly not re-offend.
But in a determined cross-examination, Polk was able to elicit Kwasny's admission that she was unaware of the details of the case at hand, and equally unsure of the policies and procedures of the adult probation office in Hawaii where she worked for just nine months, including what factors a judge gives priority to in determining a sentence.
David McCall, who owns a trucking business in Texas, said he and his wife attended all of Ray's seminars in 2008, spending about $125,000 in the process. He said Ray's teachings were well worth the money as they helped him see his way to better decisions in life.
"If I'm struggling or having problems," he said, "I can see different avenues or channels rather than just one."
McCall attended Ray's 2008 Spiritual Warrior seminar in Sedona, an event at which trial witnesses described numerous sweat lodge participants as being in clear distress. He said he saw no problems of any kind.
And when Polk asked if he was comfortable that Ray was qualified to lead potentially hazardous events, events that McCall's wife and children participated in, the witness remained in the camp of the man he calls a friend.
"It didn't matter," McCall said. "You can learn from all types of people."
YCSO Detective Ross Diskin was able to complete his testimony from last week. Diskin reiterated his contention that, despite defense assertions to the contrary, Ray was not cooperative with the investigation into the sweat lodge deaths, even when he came to Arizona to surrender himself into custody.
"It was my understanding that (Ray attorney Luis Li) did not want us to arrest Mr. Ray in California," Diskin said. "He wanted him to be arrested in Arizona" (to avoid the extradition process).
The defense intends to present eight or nine more witnesses, including Ray's mother and brother, over the next two days before Ray's sentencing on Friday.