Trial set to start over burned S. Ind. music hall

NASHVILLE, Ind. - The trial is set to start this week for the former manager of a southern Indiana concert hall on charges he set the fire that destroyed it more than four years ago.

Authorities allege 77-year-old James Bowyer of Morgantown set the September 2009 fire at Brown County's Little Nashville Opry in an attempt to claim $3 million in insurance money.

Bowyer's trial in a Brown County court on arson and other charges is scheduled to begin with jury selection on Tuesday, The Herald-Times reported.

Brown County Prosecutor Jim Oliver said he intended to call about 50 witnesses during the trial that could last two weeks.

Bowyer has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer said he had no reason to burn the business since he wasn't listed on the insurance or tax records and wouldn't benefit from it being destroyed.

Court documents show the concert hall was insured for more than $3 million.

The 2,000-seat concert hall opened in 1975 just outside Nashville along Indiana 46. It had hosted performers such as Johnny Cash, George Strait, the Oak Ridge Boys and Trisha Yearwood.

Oliver has said Bowyer and the hall's owner were heavily in debt from casino gambling losses. The hall's owner hasn't been charged, with authorities saying they had no evidence of anyone but Bowyer being involved in the fire.

Defense attorney John Boren said Bowyer, who faces six years to 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges, has serious health problems.

"In terms of the criminal cases I have tried, and there have been many, this one is without a doubt one of the most baffling cases I've ever seen," he said.

Authorities allege Bowyer waited until the audience and band had cleared the building after a Saturday night concert, then poured a flammable liquid down the center aisle and onto the stage before igniting it and leaving out the back door around 10 p.m.

A passer-by called 911 to report flames coming from the structure 22 minutes later.

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