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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 »

Helen Watkins, 81, Columbus
  Mother of Billy Ray Watkins of Nashville

Billy Howard Webb, 81, Greenfield
  Father of Larry Webb of Nashville

David H. Ellis, 69, Morgantown
  

  • May 29
    Farmers market reopens in Bean Bean Blossom
    4 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, 11 State Road 45 at 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 29
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 29
    Nashville Technical Review Committee
    1 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • May 29
    Gospel jubilee at Redbarn
    8 p.m. RedBarn Jamboree, 71 Parkview Road off 46 East
  • May 30
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 30
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 30
    Comedy tour at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 31
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    10 a.m. to noon Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • June 2
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • June 2
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • June 2
    Bean Blossom Sewer Board
    6:30 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • June 2
    CSCD Building Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • June 2
    Nashville Redevelopment Commission
    4:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • June 3
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • June 3
    BC Commissioners
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • June 3
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    5:30 p.m. BC Intermediate School, 260 School House Lane
  • June 3
    BC Emergency Management Advisory Council
    8 a.m. Ambulance Base, 53 State Road 46 East
  • June 3
    Brown County SWCD
    6:30 p.m. SWCD Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • June 4
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 4
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 4
    Gospel jam & sing first Thursday in Gnaw Bone
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 4
    Rotary Club
    7:15 a.m. Artist Colony Inn, 105 S. Van Buren St.
  • June 4
    CSCD Ecology Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • June 4
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    6:30 p.m. BC Intermediate School, 260 School House Lane
  • June 5
    Strawberry fest during farmers market
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, 11 State Road 45 at 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 5
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 5
    Gospel jubilee at Redbarn
    8 p.m. RedBarn Jamboree, 71 Parkview Road, off 46 East
  • June 6
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • June 6
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • June 6
    Shrine parade celebrates summer
    11 a.m. downtown Nashville
  • June 6
    Kids VBS day set for Methodist church
    10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nashville United Methodist Church, 36 S. Jefferson St.
  • June 6
    Van Buren School reunion slated
    5 p.m. Van Buren Elementary School, 4045 State Road 135 South
  • June 6
    Live band at dance barn
    6;30 p.m., 8 to 11 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • June 7
    Hog roast at church slated
    Following a.m. services BC Community Church, 2370 Main St., Helmsburg
  • June 7
    Read to dogs at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 7
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    10 a.m. to noon Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • June 8
    BETA Can-do Camp dates set
    1 to 5:30 p.m. BETA center, behind Miller's Ice Cream
  • June 8
    VBS starts at Parkview church
    6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Parkview Church of the Nazarene, 1750 State Road 46 East
  • June 8
    Beeline beekeepers club
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 9
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • June 9
    Nashville Parking & Public Facilities
    6 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • June 9
    CSCD Roads, Security commissions
    6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. CSCD Office, 8377 Cordry Drive; CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • June 9
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • June 9
    Retired teachers to meet at new history center
    noon Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • June 9
    Peaceful Valley Heritage meeting
    6:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 10
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • June 10
    CRC Steering Committee
    6:30 p.m. CRC, 246 E. Main St.
  • June 11
    Go Club at the library Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 11
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 11
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 12
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 12
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 13
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • June 13
    Open house conducted at New Song
    9 to 11 a.m. New Song Mission, 7202 Keith Donaldson Road, Freetown
  • June 13
    Homemakers garage sale at the fairgrounds
    8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Exhibit building, Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • June 15
    Essential oil class at tea shop
    6 p.m. Sweetea's Tea Shop, 225 S. Van Buren St., Suite C, Coachlight Square
  • June 17
    Hamblen Fire District
    7 p.m. Hamblen Fire Station, 4650 Sweetwater Trail, Gatesville
  • June 17
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • June 18
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 18
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 18
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 20
    Rock & mineral club
    6 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • June 20
    Pollinator Awareness Day at state park Nature Center
    9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • June 20
    Relay for Life walk set
    7 a.m.to 11 p.m. BCHS track, Main/Old State Road 46, at south end of Greasy Creek Road
  • June 23
    Art class set for fourth Saturday at winery
    3 to 5 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, Coachlight Square, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • June 27
    Pioneer women porch sale at history center
    8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • July 11
    Health fair at the YMCA
    8 a.m. to noon YMCA, 105 Willow St.
  • July 13
    Backpack Program meeting slated
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane