Today: Apr 04 , 2020

Editorial: Not Guilty Plea? Errr... Not So Fast

05 February 2010  

Reports were that Ray pleaded 'not guilty'. But did he really?

Members of the media gathered in the hallway waiting for the proceedings to begin.
"Ray Faces Charges; Pleads Not Guilty"

"Ray Pleads 'Not Guilty' to Manslaughter"

"Spiritual Warrior" James Ray Pleads Not Guilty to Manslaughter; Opts to Stay in Jail"

"Motivational Speaker James Arthur Ray Pleads Not Guilty to Manslaughter Charges"

"Ray Pleads Not Guilty"

"James Arthur Ray Pleads Not Guilty in Sweat Lodge Deaths"

"Sweat Lodge Guru Pleads Not Guilty"

It worked. Whether intentional or not, it worked admirably. Headlines from CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox and local media all proclaimed that James Arthur Ray pleaded not guilty at yesterday's hearing. But, he didn't. Not really.

Prescott eNews was in the courtroom yesterday for Ray's initial appearance, and while the press was not allowed to use cameras in the courtroom, we were allowed to make audio recordings of the proceedings. Here is the part where Ray's attorney, Tom Kelly, says the words, "Not Guilty":

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Leading up to this clip, Judge Warren R. Darrow said, "Let me ask you, Mr. Kelly, have you reviewed the matters covered in Initial with Mr. Ray?" After Kelly replied in the affirmative, the judge continued, "I want to ask first, is Mr. Ray's name and address correct as indicated on the jail and court documents?"

Kelly replied again, "It is, judge."

That's when the judge asked, "And has, Mr. Ray, have you been informed of the charges? Have you done that, Mr. Kelly?"

Kelly answers, "I have, judge." Then Kelly jumps immediately into the following, preemptive statement, speaking rather quickly, "We've got a copy of the indictment, we've reviewed it with our client, we've waived its formal reading, his name is spelled correctly, we'd enter a plea of not guilty; request that a jury trial be preserved and the case management conference be set."

But Judge Darrow doesn't enter that plea of not guilty. And really, if you listen carefully to what Kelly said it was, "we'd enter a plea..." In other words, "we would enter a plea..." but he wasn't entering a plea at that time, because, this wasn't the time to enter any plea at all.

Judge Darrow's next words confirm this, "OK, and that's essentially what would be done at an arraignment; this isn't the arraignment, it's the initlal appearance. As I have indicated, I am going to set, or I have indicated to counsel [unintelligible] I intend to set the matter EDC, Early Disposition Court; however, I think that if the parties want to waive that, by an agreement, that can be considered an arraignment proceeding rather than an EDC proceeding, and there probably could be a waiver of that later hearing. But in any event, I'll note that, Mr. Kelly, but I'm not conducting the arraignment today. This is strictly the initial appearance, basically the proceeding that's required within 24 hours of arrest."

The point is, our world is bombarded by media sound bites. In this case, presumably what the media wanted to hear was, "How did Ray plead?" So, with careful wording, Defense Attorney Tom Kelly let the listening media hear, "not guilty," which was all they needed for their headlines. Since they were not allowed to videotape or shoot photos, and most weren't prepared to handle audio instead, they had to rely on their notes and memory. And what was memorable were the words, "not guilty".

These court proceedings, which potentially will lead to a trial, will be lengthy and carefully orchestrated by attorneys for both sides. Let's face it, that's what lawyers do. Their job is to provide the best possible representation of their client - whether it be the defendant or the state. And astute attorneys know that they are actually presenting their case to two courts: the Court of Law and the Court of Public Opinion. They're not doing anything wrong, they're just doing their job. They're being attorneys.

The question is, will the media do it's job? Will the members of the media pay attention to the entire proceedings or will they stop listening once they've harvested their sound bites?

Perhaps more importantly, will the watching public do their job, as they form personal opinions and make mental judgments about the guilt or innocence of James Arthur Ray? Will they sort through the noisy information and set aside emotion to seek out the truth of what really happened?

Here at Prescott eNews, we promise to give more information, rather than less. We will look for facts and verification. In doing so, it is our hope that justice will genuinely be served.

In that light, here is the recording of the entire proceedings. We have only edited out long silences.

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Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder and Editor of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She asks a lot of questions! In her spare time, she loves photography, cooking and hanging out with her family.