Arthur “A.J.” Bowers was found guilty Thursday afternoon in the 2003 murder of Jim Bolt, who was working at the Laurens VFW when he was set upon by Bowers and other conspirators and beaten to death. Bolt was 76.
While his alleged co-conspirators have not been conclusively identified or brought to trial, Bowers, 32, was found guilty on charges of murder, criminal conspiracy and armed robbery nearly 15 years after the brutal murder shocked the Laurens community. After the verdicts were read, 8th Circuit Judge Donald B. Hocker sentenced Bowers to 50 years in prison for murder. He also received 30 years for armed robbery and five years for criminal conspiracy, which will run concurrent to the murder sentence.
Because Bowers was 17 at the time of the crimes, he could not be sentenced to life without parole due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but he will serve the entire 50 years of his sentence for murder, minus the more than three years he has already spent in custody.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried at a verdict, but I almost did with this one,” said 8th Circuit Investigator Walter Bentley, a former Laurens Police Department investigator who was among the first on the crime scene. “I’ve lived this case for 15 years.”
After the verdicts were read, Bowers, dressed in a dark suit as he had been for the duration of the four-day trial at the Laurens County Judicial Complex, dropped his head to his chest and was consoled by his legal team.
During his closing argument, 8th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Warren Mowry told the jury that Bowers helped put in motion a series of events that culminated in murder.
“An evil chain of events collided at the VFW in Laurens,” said Mowry, holding the clock from the VFW that still reads 6:25, the time it was unplugged during the robbery and violence on Sept. 26, 2003 that left Bolt dead. “Because of the actions of Arthur J. Bowers and his conspirators, time stopped for Jim Bolt.”
Defense attorney Jay G. Anderson, of Murrells Inlet, reminded the jury that there was no physical evidence that put Bowers at the scene of the crime and questioned the veracity of testimony from key state witnesses such as Shawn Case. Case testified that Bowers, wearing bloody clothes, had attempted to use bloodstained money to buy crack cocaine from her hours after the murder.
Anderson continued the argument he first introduced during opening statements that Bowers, 17 at the time of the murder, was emotionally and mentally impaired and unable to understand what was being asked of him during the police investigation. Anderson also reminded jurors that charges against Bowers had been dropped in 2006, only to be refiled against him in 2015.
“They hit the investigation hard in ’03 and ’04, then in ’06, they dropped the charges against Arthur J. Bowers,” Anderson said. “Walter Bentley testified that he was trolling jailhouse phone calls, still looking for something.”
Mowry also told jurors about last year’s conviction of Brenda Roberts, who received 14 years in prison for accessory after the fact of murder for washing the bloody clothes Bowers wore that night and for helping to hide other evidence, including possibly the murder weapon.
“Time has gone on for the Bolt family,” Mowry said. “There’s a saying that justice delayed is justice denied, but any day is the time to do the right thing, and the time is right for justice.”