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Update: Son-in-law charged with murder in deaths of former Johnson City couple

February 13th, 2014 7:17 pm by Sam Watson

Update: Son-in-law charged with murder in deaths of former Johnson City couple

Jon and Marion Setzer (Photo courtesy of Lebanon Democrat via First United Methodist Church)

Days after former Johnson City residents Jon and Marion Setzer lost their lives to an exploding package at their home in Middle Tennessee, childhood friends and Science Hill classmates remembered them as kind, talented and well-respected people.

"It just broke my heart," said Liz Biosca, who grew up with Marion Irwin Setzer in east Johnson City and graduated from Science Hill with her in 1960. "She was my very first friend when I moved to Johnson City when I was 3 years old. She was at all my birthday parties and everything else.

"She was just the kindest, brightest, most beautiful, strong-spirited person and a strong Christian. She didn't have a mean bone in her body."

Biosca, a retired Science Hill teacher, still has a photograph taken of the two holding hands in a back yard when they were 5.

"It's just one of those things you can't understand how somebody can go through such heartache and pain," Biosca said of her friend's death.

Jon Setzer, 74, a retired attorney, was found dead at the couple's home just outside Lebanon in Wilson County after the explosion on Monday. Marion, 72, initially survived the blast and was flown to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, but she died in the early evening hours Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the couple's son-in-law had been charged with first-degree murder in their deaths. State Fire Marshal's Office spokeswoman Katelyn Abernathy said Richard Parker is also charged with unlawful possession of a prohibited weapon. No motive was indicated.

Rowena Robinson Miller and Linda Hartsell graduated from Science Hill with Jon Setzer in 1958 . Miller remembered that their mothers had been close friends as the girls grew up.

"Oh John was just great," Miller said. "He was really friendly. He was gentlemanly — a very polite young man."

He had been an ROTC officer and Key Club treasurer at Science Hill. A regular in the school's talent shows, Setzer was named most talented in the Class of 1958.

"John played piano by ear," Miller said. "He may have learned to read some sheet music, but he would listen to music and go over to the piano and play it. He trained himself to play by ear."

Hartsell, who also attended Central Baptist Church with Jon Setzer, said to her recollection, he had never returned for class reunions.

"He was just a very likable person and well known at school," Hartsell said. "He was a well respected person in the community."

Like Biosca, Helen McCormick Gray grew up with Marion Irwin Setzer. They attended the Training School (now University School at East Tennessee State University) before transferring to Science Hill as sophomores. Gray remembered riding their bikes between one another's homes along East Holston Avenue as children.

"She was just so sweet," Gray said. "I always enjoyed being with her very much. She was just a good girl."

Gray's husband, Bernie Gray, also was a member of the class of 1960, and he remembered Marion well. Pulling out the 1960 Hilltop yearbook, he found that she had been a member of the Future Nurses Club, the Student Council and the yearbook staff and a candidate for homecoming queen.

"She was just a beautiful person in every way at all times," Bernie Gray said.

Several classmates recalled that the Setzers' son, Jon Jr., was killed at 3 years old when they were living in Nashville. The boy, who Biosca said would have been 40 years old this year, was apparently playing in the back yard when a neighbor's dog broke through a fence and attacked.

"I think that just kind of devastated them," Helen McCormick Gray said.

Biosca also recalled that Jon Setzer's father died a few years later when he was thrown from his bicycle while riding near the family home in Johnson City's Oakland Gardens neighborhood.

"So they have really had a lot of tragedy in their lives," Biosca said.

The Lebanon Democrat reported that friends in Middle Tennessee said the couple remained very close. Jody Aulds, a partner attorney at Rochelle, McCulloch and Aulds, said she knew Jon Setzer because he was one of her Sunday school teachers at First United Methodist Church in Lebanon.

“He was one of the five to six teachers we had, and they would rotate,” Aulds said told the Democrat. “He was clearly one of the favorites.”

Aulds said Jon Setzer was “extremely knowledgeable of the Bible” and bragged on his presentations of his lessons.

According to Aulds, Jon Setzer had practiced law in Nashville before he and Marion both retired and moved to Lebanon around 2006 to be near their daughter who lived in the city.

“You know, some people come in and they are real quiet, but not them,” Aulds said. “They came in, and they got involved right away. They were very active members of the church, whether it was greeters or anything like that.”

Reached by telephone the day before his arrest Thursday, Parker declined to talk about the deaths of Jon and Marion Setzer with The Associated Press. Parker ran Legacy Restorations, a business that specializes in historic restorations, according to its website. His house was just behind the Setzers' in a semi-rural area of Lebanon, about 40 minutes east of Nashville.

Parker was convicted of arson in 1993 in Giles County and sentenced to four months of probation, according to records.

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More from the AP:

The son-in-law of a Tennessee couple killed when a package exploded at their home has been charged with first-degree murder in their deaths.

State Fire Marshal's Office spokeswoman Katelyn Abernathy said Richard Parker is also charged with unlawful possession of a prohibited weapon.

Reached by telephone the day before the arrest Thursday, Parker declined to talk about the deaths of Jon and Marion Setzer with The Associated Press. Parker ran Legacy Restorations, a business that specializes in historic restorations, according to its website. His house was just behind the Setzers' in a semi-rural area of Lebanon, about 40 minutes east of Nashville.

Parker was convicted of arson in 1993 in Giles County and sentenced to four months of probation, according to records.

Abernathy said she did not have any information about a possible motive for the bombing that killed 74-year-old Jon Setzer and his 72-year-old wife Marion, shocking friends and neighbors, who described the couple as kind, giving and devout.

Jon Setzer was an attorney who handled wills and trusts, but he had been in very ill health in recent years. Friends said he was on dialysis and had heart problems and high blood pressure, among other health issues.

Marion Setzer had formerly worked as a dental hygienist.

The blast at their home on Monday at about 5 p.m. killed Jon Setzer immediately and critically injured Marion Setzer, who died at the hospital on Wednesday.

"We are just dazed by what happened," Nashville attorney John Stark said. "Jon was one of the good guys. He was a good lawyer. He taught Sunday school."

Stark, who said he's known the Setzers for more than 30 years and attended church with them, described the former lawyer as quiet and humble man.

Investigators continue to sift through debris for clues inside the couple's red-brick, two-story home. Authorities so far have declined to describe the package or give a possible motive for the crime.

John Lloyd, a retired dentist, said he has known the family for years, first when Marion Setzer worked for him as a hygienist in Nashville and later when they attended church together in Lebanon.

"They were two of the finest people I ever knew, good Christian people who loved their children," Lloyd said.

Lloyd said Marion Setzer stopped working for him when she became pregnant with the couple's son, Jon Leo Setzer Jr. The child died at age 3 when he was mauled by a neighbor's German shepherd in 1977.

The story was front-page news at the time as officials debated whether to have the dog put down.

Bob Taylor, who lived about a block from the Setzers for many years, said they were "nice folks" and good neighbors. Jon Setzer volunteered do the legal work to set up their local homeowners association. Taylor said he and his young children all helped search for the Setzers' little boy when he went missing. Taylor and his wife had not heard from the Setzers for a few years before they learned about the explosion on television.

"My wife was home by herself," he said. "It just knocked her for a loop.

"We have no idea, no clue, not even guesses as to who might be involved. He was just a gentle man. We were just stunned by the whole thing."

Nashville attorney George Cate Jr. was in practice with Jon Setzer from 1979 until 1991, and the two continued to work in the same building when their partnership dissolved.

The former law partner described Jon Setzer as a very devout man who had once been highly organized in his law practice. But he said Setzer had trouble getting back to clients after he moved out of his office and practiced law from his home.

"In those last few years, operating out of his home, he had several complaints from clients who had difficulty communicating with him," Cate said. "I attributed his failure to respond to clients to health problems."


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