The former manager of a southern Indiana concert hall has been found not guilty on charges that he set a 2009 fire that destroyed the venue.
A Brown County jury on Friday acquitted James Bowyer of Morgantown on all charges in his arson trial. He was accused of setting the fire that destroyed the Little Nashville Opry in September 2009.
“I don’t know how anyone could survive something like that. Barbs being thrown at you on a weekly and monthly basis for four years. It’s not easy to take. I really want to thank the Brown County jurors because they saw the set of facts as they were and exonerated me from something I didn’t have anything to do with,” Bowyer said.
Prosecutors said Bowyer set the fire in hopes of collecting $3 million in insurance money because he was heavily in debt from gambling losses.
Authorities said both Bowyer and his companion, Little Nashville Opry owner Esther Hamilton, had accumulated large debts from casino gambling.
But in a final argument, defending Attorney John Boren asserted the defendant didn’t have the physical ability to douse the building in flammable material that would have helped it burn down.
Boren also questioned the integrity of the investigation.
“The investigation jumped right straight too Jim Bowyer, and they didn’t do a thorough investigation,” Boren says.
Boren says law enforcement failed to fully examine other suspects, and the prosecution’s case relies on investigators handwritten notes because they didn’t record all the interviews.
But Prosecuting Attorney Jim Oliver says that kind of criticism is not unusual and expected from a defense. He says all the evidence points to Bowyer as the arsonist.
“We proved that the defendant had the knowledge, opportunity and motive to commit this crime, and we proved that nobody else had the same combination of things,” he says.
He says the defendant even hinted that he was behind the fire in a comment to a colleague, saying that the Opry wouldn’t be around much longer.
Bowyer’s attorney maintained during his trial he had not been the last to leave the property the night of the fire.
New owners from Martinsville have bought the property where the Opry was located and are promising to re-open the venue.
In a statement from the website, “While things look quiet right now at the building site, thanks to support from the Brown County Council, Commissioners and Redevelopment Commission, plans are moving forward for construction of the new facility. The biggest stars in country music will soon be returning to Nashville Indiana. Once tickets go on sale they will be available here online and by contacting the box office. We look forward to seeing you soon at the Little Nashville Opry!”