Photo: Elizabeth Nicodemus (flickr)
Update 5:50 p.m.
James Bowyer has been found not guilty on two counts–arson and arson with intent to defraud, which are both felonies.
Defense Attorney John Boren says he was relieved because a guilty verdict would have been a “death sentence” for Bowyer, who is 77 years old and could have faced up to 20 years behind bars.
Prosecuting Attorney Jim Oliver says arson cases are inherently difficult to prosecute because the evidence is often destroyed in the fire.
There are no other suspects in the case.
A Brown County Court heard final arguments today in the Little Nashville Opry case.
Prosecutors are alleging James Bowyer, 77, set the Opry building on fire in 2009 so he could reap as much as $3 million in insurance money.
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.
The jury is now in deliberation. If convicted Bowyer could face as many as 20 years in prison.