Families of fatal sweat lodge victims watch as guru is freed

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(CNN) — New Age guru James Arthur Ray is out of prison, but the families of three acolytes who died in a sweat lodge ceremony vow to keep on eye on him if he tries to rebuild his self-help empire.

Ray left an Arizona prison Friday after serving 20 months for the negligent homicides of three followers who sought spiritual breakthroughs but died of overheating in a sweat lodge near Sedona in October 2009.

Ray was driven Friday afternoon from a minimum-security prison in Buckeye, said Arizona corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux. He did not stop to talk with the media and others at the prison gate, Lamoreaux added.

Neither Ray nor his representatives could be reached for comment, but he will remain in Arizona for the next 90 days, Lamoreaux said.

The 55-year-old son of an Oklahoma preacher, Ray built a multimillion-dollar business as a best-selling author and motivational coach. His book, “Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want,” made him a New Age star. He was was riding high as he planned his October 2009 Spiritual Warrior weekend at the 70-acre Angel Valley retreat outside Sedona.

According to testimony at his trial, acolytes who flocked to Angel Valley’s red rock foothills were willing to shave their heads, meditate in the desert for 36 hours without food and water and then symbolically die and be reborn in the sweat lodge ritual.

Fifty-five people followed Ray into the sweat lodge; three died from overheating and 19 others were hospitalized after they collapsed, vomited, had trouble breathing, hallucinated, foamed at the mouth or fell unconscious.

Ray was convicted of negligently causing the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York; Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota; and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee. Ray was found negligent, but acquitted of manslaughter charges that could have sent him to prison for 30 years.

Relatives of Brown, Neuman and Shore vow to keep an eye on Ray should he attempt to rebuild the self-help empire that included best-selling books, motivational seminars, speaking engagements and $10,000-a-head weekend retreats.

They planned to confront Ray as he left prison and ask him to sign a “promise” to adhere to certain ethical practices. It was not immediately known whether they were able to do so or whether he signed. The promise also was sent this week to 160 other self-help practitioners — including well-known personalities such as Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, Tony Robbins, Suze Orman, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil McGraw.

Read more at CNN