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Sweat lodge guru pleads not guilty to manslaughter

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'Bodies everywhere'
  • Self-help guru James Ray cannot post $5 million bond, his attorney says
  • Ray's attorney Luis Li says Ray has cooperated with authorities "every step of the way"
  • Li says the deaths of three people in sweat lodge was a "terrible accident"

(CNN) -- Self-help guru James Ray pleaded not guilty Thursday to manslaughter charges in the deaths of three participants at an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony he organized last year.

As many as 65 people, ranging in age from 30 to 60, attended Ray's "Spiritual Warrior" program in October at the Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona, Arizona. They spent up to two hours inside a dome-like structure called a sweat lodge, which was covered with tarps and blankets, and had hot rocks and water inside to create steam.

Ray, whose charges stem from the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman, was arrested Wednesday at his attorney's office in Prescott, Arizona, said Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh.

Ray's attorney called the charges unjust and said his client would be exonerated.

"This was a terrible accident, but it was an accident, not a criminal act," attorney Luis Li said. "James Ray cooperated at every step of the way, providing information and witnesses to the authorities, showing that no one could have foreseen this accident."

Ray's bond has been set at $5 million.

Video: Attorney fights for James Ray
  • Manslaughter
  • Arizona
  • Crime

His defense team made a motion to reduce bond Thursday, according to one of his attorneys, Brad Brian, who told CNN's "Larry King Live" that Ray is unable to post bond. A hearing to consider the motion will be held next week, Brian said.

Three people died after spending time in the sweat lodge October 8 and nearly 20 others were sickened. Brown and Shore were pronounced dead shortly after arriving at an area hospital, and Neuman died October 17 after being hospitalized since the incident.

Brian said Ray is "devastated" about the deaths, adding that the people who died were Ray's students and friends. Neuman had previously participated in several of Ray's events, Brian said.

"He thinks about those three people every minute of every day," Brian said.

Brian also said Ray took all of the necessary safety precautions during the program, hiring nurses and other medical professionals trained in CPR to monitor the sweat lodge inside and out. Participants in the $9,000 weeklong program also signed waivers and could opt out of the sweat lodge, Brian said.

He also denied reports that Ray prevented people from leaving the tent.

"The facts are about 20 people left the sweat lodge during the event," he said. "Doors were not locked. It's a tent."

Melinda Martin, a former James Ray International employee, was outside the tent as the sick came out.

"It was like an absolute MASH unit," Martin said in a December interview. "Bodies everywhere, passed out. And then [James Ray] walked out of there looking like a million bucks. James, I think, was completely oblivious to the pandemonium that was taking place around that sweat lodge."

Native Americans used sweat lodges in spiritual and physical purification ceremonies.

Ray is widely known for programs that claim to teach people how to create wealth from all aspects of their lives -- financially, mentally, physically and spiritually.