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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 »

Carol Ann Spencer-Thomas, 73, Brown County
  Wife of Charles R. Thomas of Brown County

Robert 'Bob' F. Melton, 80, Brown County
  Husband of Annabelle Melton of Brown County

The Rev. John S. Honeay, 89, Greenwood
  Member of Unity Baptist Church and father of Barbara Ranard (Harvey) of Brown County

  • January 30
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • January 30
    'Wild' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • January 31
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • January 31
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • January 31
    Live band at sports bar
    8 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • January 31
    'Wild' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • January 31
    'Psycho' party at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • February 1
    'Wild' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • February 2
    Gnaw Bone Sewage District
    5:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • February 3
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • February 3
    Open 12-step meetings in New Bellsville area
    6 to 7 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • February 3
    Bean Blossom Regional Sewer Board
    7:30 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • February 3
    Women's Bible study offered
    1 to 3 p.m. Cornerstone Inn, 54 E. Franklin St.
  • February 4
    Lake Lemon Conservancy District annual meeting
    6 p.m. Benton Township Senior Center, 7616 E. State Road 45, Unionville
  • February 4
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • February 4
    Van Buren Township Advisory Board
    7 p.m. Van Buren trustee's office, 4748 Christianburg Road
  • February 4
    BC Emergency Management Advisory Council
    8 a.m. Ambulance Base, 53 State Road 46 East
  • February 5
    Go Club meeting Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • February 5
    Jackson Township Board
    6 p.m. Jackson Fire Station, 4831 Helmsburg Road
  • February 6
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • February 7
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • February 7
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • February 7
    Karaoke at sports bar
    8 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • February 7
    Cabin Fever Concert features local music
    7 to midnight The Seasons Lodge, 560 State Road 46 East
  • February 9
    Washington Township Trustees
    7 p.m. Parkview Church of the Nazarene, 1750 State Road 46 East
  • February 9
    Reservation deadline for Valentine's tea at local shop
    Sweetea's Tea Shop, 225 S. Van Buren St., Suite C, Coachlight Square
  • February 10
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • February 10
    Van Buren Fire Department
    6 p.m. Van Buren Fire Station, 4040 State Road 135 South
  • February 10
    Peaceful Valley Heritage Preservation Society meeting set
    6:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • February 10
    BC Genealogical Society meeting slated
    2 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • February 11
    East Hill Cemetery meeting slated
    7 p.m. Morgantown Community Center, 269 W. Washington St.
  • February 12
    BC Convention & Visitors Commission
    8:30 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • February 13
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North.
  • February 13
    Daddy-daughter Valentine's dance Friday the 13th
    6:30 p.m. Sweetea's Tea Shop, 225 S. Van Buren St., Suite C, Coachlight Square
  • February 14
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • February 17
    Hamblen Trustee Board annual review
    6:30 p.m. 2314 Hickory Ridge Lane off Hornettown Road
  • February 19
    Woodlands project dinner, meeting slated
    6 p.m. Parkview Church of the Nazarene, 1750 State Road 46 East
  • February 20
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • March 7
    Meet 'Wilderness Plots' author at the library
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • March 8
    'Wilderness Plots'-themed concert planned
    4 p.m. BCHS, 235 School House Lane
  • March 8
    Brown County bridal tour slated
    10 a.m. to 6 p.m. various locations
  • March 10
    Soil & water conservation district to celebrate 62 years
    6 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • March 21
    Venders needed for Jackson TFD yard sale
    8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jackson Township Fire Department, 4831 Helmsburg Road
  • April 26
    County history center dedication slated
    2 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould