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Former Opry business manager found not guilty
Updated on: 01.31.14

The verdict is in: Not guilty on both counts.

A jury of Brown County residents determined that James D. Bowyer did not set fire to the Little Nashville Opry in 2009.

James D. Bowyer, 77, was charged in March 2012 with arson and arson with intent to defraud, both felonies. The Sept. 19, 2009 fire destroyed the 35-year-old country music venue west of Nashville.

Bowyer was the Opry’s business manager at the time.

The prosecution called approximately 40 witnesses over six days to show that Bowyer and the Opry were in financial trouble. Bowyer's finances were intertwined with the Opry's, said Prosecutor Jim Oliver. Bowyer stood to benefit from burning down the building, which was insured for more than $3 million.

Defense attorney John Boren of Martinsville said multiple people could have done it.

He called only one witness: A Paoli man who testified that he saw a car in the Opry parking lot as the building burned. The prosecution's witnesses had not mentioned that car.

The prosecution's burden was to erase any reasonable doubt that anyone but Bowyer set the fire.

Witnesses testified about the Opry owing more than $1.5 million in loans and operating expenses, and Bowyer and former Opry owner Esther Hamilton having significant gambling debts.

At the time of the fire, the five Opry banking accounts contained a total of about $8,500.

Witnesses for the prosecution reported that Bowyer did not earn a salary as business manager.

But Boren argued there was no guarantee Bowyer would get anything if the Opry burned. He said Hamilton's late son, Lincoln, was heir to the Opry and would have benefited.

Four promissory notes found in the fire rubble showed Bowyer would have been paid $300,000 if the Opry sold. A sale had recently fallen through.

No one associated with the Opry received a fire insurance payout. A judge ruled that the policy was void because more than 50 percent of the sprinkler system had been dismantled.

Boren also accused the ATF investigators of forming biases that prevented them from thoroughly investigating the fire.

Bowyer did not testify. Throughout the trial, he sat expressionless as both sides built their cases.

When the verdict was read, Bowyer held his head in his hand and cried.

Read more in the Feb. 5 Brown County Democrat.

Obituaries
See Full List »

Eddie E. “Hoss” Wilkerson II, 42, Pendleton
  Native of Brown County, 1991 graduate of BCHS

James E. (Jim) Robinson, 76, Bedford
  Former chief deputy of police for the town of Nashville

Josephine Lee Cueto, 62, Morgantown
  Daughter of Priscilla Burgmeier of Nashville

  • November 27
    Thanksgiving dinner
    11 a.m. to 3 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • November 27
    Government Offices CLOSED
  • November 28
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • November 28
    Government Offices CLOSED
  • November 28
    'St. Vincent' at the Playhouse
    1 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • November 28
    'A Tuna Christmas' dinner theater at the Playhouse
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  • November 29
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • November 29
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • November 29
    'St. Vincent' at the Playhouse
    1 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • November 29
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • November 30
    'St. Vincent' at the Playhouse
    7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • November 30
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    2 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
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    BC Commissioners
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • December 1
    Gnaw Bone Sewage District
    5:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • December 1
    BC 4-H Council
    7 p.m. 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • December 2
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • December 2
    Open 12-step meetings in New Bellsville area
    6 to 7 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • December 2
    Nashville Redevelopment Commission CANCELED
  • December 2
    CSCD Building Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • December 2
    BC Chamber of Commerce
    8 a.m. Willow Manor, 72 Willow St.
  • December 2
    Boys Varsity Wrestling
    7 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 3
    Woodworkers Club
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • December 3
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • December 3
    BC Local Emergency Planning Committee
    9 a.m. Ambulance Base, 53 State Road 46 East
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    BC Soil & Water District
    5 p.m. SWCD Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
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  • December 4
    CSCD Ecology Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • December 4
    Boys Freshman Basketball
    6 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 4
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 5
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • December 5
    Children's fund annual auction
    6 p.m. Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 5
    Boys JV, Varsity Basketball
    6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 5
    'A Tuna Christmas' dinner theater at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 6
    Church schedules drive-thru Nativity
    6 to 8 p.m. New Life Comm. Church, 1450 State Road 135 North
  • December 6
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • December 6
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • December 6
    Girls JV, Varsity Basketball
    1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 6
    Boys JV, Varsity Basketball
    4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 6
    'The Polar Express' at the Playhouse
    1 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 6
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 7
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    2 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 8
    BC Animal Control Board
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • December 8
    Boys Freshman Basketball
    6 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 9
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • December 9
    Nashville Parking & Public Facilities
    6 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • December 9
    CSCD Roads, Security commissions
    6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. CSCD Office, 8377 Cordry Drive; CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • December 9
    BC 4-H Fair Board
    7 p.m. 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • December 9
    Girls JV, Varsity Basketball
    6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 10
    Hamblen Fire District
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  • December 10
    Local Coordinating Council
    8 a.m. Comm. Corrections Office, Suite B, lower level of Veterans Building, 902 Deer Run Lane,
  • December 10
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • December 10
    Boys Freshman Basketball
    6 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • December 11
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 12
    Widowed group plans Christmas party
    noon Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • December 12
    BCSP Christmas bird count slated
    8 a.m. BCSP Nature Center, 1810 State Road 46 East
  • December 12
    'A Tuna Christmas' dinner theater at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 13
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • December 13
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 14
    'A Tuna Christmas' at the Playhouse
    2 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • December 16
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    6:30 p.m. BC Intermediate School, 260 School House Lane