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Trial begins for man accused in fire at Opry

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The man accused of burning down the Little Nashville Opry in 2009 soon will get a chance to defend himself.

The trial of 77-year-old James D. Bowyer of Morgantown is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. today in Brown Circuit Court.

Bowyer has awaited trail since his arrest in March 2012 on charges of Class B felony arson and Class C felony arson with intent to defraud.

The Brown County Prosecutor’s Office charged Bowyer, former general manager of the Opry, more than two years after the Sept. 19, 2009, fire that destroyed the popular music venue west of Nashville. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted in the probe.

Judge Judith Stewart set aside three weeks for the trial.

She ordered a larger-than-usual pool of potential jurors due to the number of people in Brown County with knowledge of the case. More than 100 will descend upon the courthouse downtown, making parking in Nashville even more challenging.

John Boren of Martinsville will represent Bowyer, while Prosecutor Jim Oliver and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mary Wertz will pair up to handle the state’s case.

The prosecution plans to prove that Bowyer poured an ignitable liquid throughout the Opry and lit it on fire as part of a scheme to gain money from an insurance settlement.

The defense plans to prove that Bowyer is innocent by showing that someone or something else started the fire.

To narrow the list of potential jurors, people summoned to serve will fill out a questionnaire.

Examples of its questions are “Describe any personal or business relationship you have had with the Little Nashville Opry, Esther Hamilton or James Bowyer,” and “Describe any personal knowledge you have about the fire at the Little Nashville Opry on Sept. 19, 2009.”

Those not eliminated by their answers will then be subjected to further questioning by the attorneys and judge in open court. They will choose 12 jurors and two alternates.

The prosecution’s witness list includes 60 people, such as police, firefighters, musicians, former Opry owner Hamilton, and the man who bought the property in hopes of rebuilding the Opry at its original location, Scott Wayman.

A separate hearing will be conducted the first day of trial to determine whether or not the jury will be able to hear about certain information from Bowyer’s past.

The defense and prosecution had until Jan. 8 to file a plea deal with the court and erase the need for a trial. No such agreement was filed, according to court records.

Bowyer, has remained free on bail since shortly after his arrest.

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