Fort Worth

Man with record of violence against women arrested in death of Fort Worth woman

Britney Eylar, 22, with her son, Tristen.
Britney Eylar, 22, with her son, Tristen. Courtesy

A 39-year-old man who was convicted two decades ago of killing a 14-year-old girl has been arrested in the fatal attack on New Year’s Day of a Fort Worth woman.

Jim Harvey Opry is accused of hitting Britney Eylar, 22, in the head with a blunt object. Fort Worth officers, responding to an injured person report, found Eylar lying unconscious in a lot off the 400 block of Haltom Road on the evening of New Year’s Day.

She was hospitalized for a week before being removed from life support Friday morning and pronounced dead that evening.

Her slaying was the city’s first homicide of 2015.

Homicide Sgt. Joe Loughman said that Opry and Eylar had apparently been dating and that the motive is suspected to be domestic. He said Opry lived near where Eylar was found.

Opry was arrested Monday morning at an Azle residence on an aggravated assault warrant that had been obtained before Eylar’s death. With Eylar now dead, Loughman said, investigators will seek a murder charge against him.

It is a position Opry has found himself in before.

A previous death

On New Year’s Eve 1992, Opry fatally shot Cristie Casanover, 14, during a party at his home in Atascocita northeast of Houston while his parents were away.

Then a 17-year-old Humble High School student, Opry had been showing off his father’s new 12-gauge shotgun when the shooting occurred, according to Houston Chronicle articles about the case.

Opry believed that the gun was unloaded when he aimed it at the heads of two partygoers and pulled the trigger without consequence. He then pointed it at Casanover, a Humble High freshman, and pulled the trigger, firing it into her face.

Instead of calling for help, Opry and two friends cleaned up evidence of the shooting and put Casanover’s body in a car trunk.

“They threw her in a big cistern tank full of logs and stagnant water. It was green and horrible,” her mother, Sherry Craft Johnson, recalled Monday in a phone interview with the Star-Telegram. “She was left there three days. Hunters found her. They thought she was a mannequin in the water.”

Plea deal reached

Opry was charged with murder, but a Harris County grand jury later indicted him on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, much to the dismay of Casanover’s family.

In November 1993, just before a jury was to be picked for his trial, Opry entered into a plea agreement.

He pleaded no contest to the manslaughter charge and was sentenced to 10 years of deferred-adjudication probation. As part of his probation, he was required to attend a county boot camp for a couple of months.

His probation, however, was revoked in July 1994 after Opry picked up a new charge for beating and slashing the neck of an ex-girlfriend.

According to a July 1994 Houston Chronicle article, Opry attacked the 16-year-old girl because he was angry that she had found a new boyfriend while he was in boot camp in Casanover’s case.

He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in that case, receiving two 10-year prison sentences, to run concurrently, on the new case and in connection with Casanover’s death.

Tarrant County court records show that Opry was later sentenced to six years in prison and 180 days in a state jail in December 2005 after pleading guilty to charges out of Westworth Village of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and evading arrest.

He also received a 10-year prison sentence in Hood County in May 2006 on another conviction of possession of a firearm by a felon, records show.

He was most recently released from prison in May 2014, Texas Department of Criminal Justice records show.

A mother’s shock

Johnson said she’s not surprised that Opry has found himself behind bars again and on such a heinous allegation.

“He’s a monster,” she said.

Johnson described Casanover as an honor student and outgoing girl who loved dancing, roller skating, softball and Girl Scouts.

“She was my little baby,” said Johnson, who had lost her husband to cancer 13 months before her daughter’s death.

Johnson said she believes that Opry’s family’s money protected him from facing a stiffer sentence in her daughter’s death. She is praying that things work out differently for Eylar’s family.

“We hope her family gets justice,” Johnson said. “I sure hope they do because this family sure didn’t.”

Eylar’s mother, Felecia Land, spent Monday making funeral arrangements for her daughter, who leaves behind a 7-year-old son, Tristen.

Land said she’s never met Opry or even heard his name before his arrest in the case and was shocked to learn of his criminal history.

“I’m just upset because he was allowed to be out and be out and be out,” she said. “This could have all been avoided if he had been charged right the other time. That’s freaking insane. I don’t even know how to react to this.

“… This could have all been avoided if he would have just been given the proper sentence.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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