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Opry arson trial under way; jury not yet chosen
Updated on: 01.21.14

Sub-freezing temperatures and blowing snow prevented all of the 100 or so potential jurors from showing up to Brown Circuit Court Jan. 21, the first day of the Little Nashville Opry arson trial.

James D. Bowyer, 77, the former Opry business manager, is accused of using an ignitable liquid to burn down the country music venue the night of Sept. 19, 2009.

By the end of Day 1, a jury had not yet been seated. A majority of the jury pool will have to return Wednesday, Jan. 22 as Judge Judith Stewart, Prosecutor Jim Oliver and defense attorney John Boren continue the selection process.

Potential jurors completed a written questionnaire about their knowledge of Bowyer, the fire and witnesses that might testify. The attorneys chose to further question about 60 of the potential jurors in a separate courtroom, so their responses about what they knew would not taint the jury pool.

As of 4 p.m., seven of the 60 or so people questioned were excused.

Oliver said he hoped to have a jury seated by Wednesday afternoon.

Three weeks have been set aside for the trial.

After lunch on Day 1, a packed courtroom heard Oliver and Boren give “mini-opening statements."

Oliver said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives determined the fire was intentionally set on or near the stage. “The question is simply, who did it?” Oliver said. He pointed at Bowyer, saying he had the motive, the knowledge and the opportunity.

Boren said he intends to use cell phone records to show that Bowyer did not set the fire because he was not present when it started. The records will show who was there, he said.

The also prosecutor brought up the financial standing of the Opry, Bowyer and then-owner Esther Hamilton. Ticket sales were down and the building was deteriorating. Bowyer and Hamilton had significant gambling debts. The Opry had nearly sold, but financing fell through. With no hope of it selling, Oliver said the $3 million insurance policy provided plenty of motive.

Boren promised the trial would be better than any novel the potential jurors ever read. He said those chosen will be fortunate to serve as jurors, in part, because they will get to play sleuths. He said no one will know who started the Opry fire.

Read updates throughout the trial at www.bcdemocrat.com and on the Brown County Democrat's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brown-County-Democrat/58947961030.

More information will be published in the Jan. 29 paper.

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    Live band at dance barn
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    Railroad museum features model Christmas trains´╗┐
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