SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A man who donated to a South Dakota museum a slightly damaged acoustic guitar played by Elvis Presley that is at the center of a custody battle insisted Thursday he had the right to give it away because he owned it.
The instrument's fate is now in the hands of a federal judge in South Dakota tasked with determining whether blues guitarist Robert A. Johnson owned the guitar when he donated it to the National Music Museum last year along with a guitar made for Johnny Cash, one of Bob Dylan's harmonicas and other objects.
The museum, located in Vermillion, South Dakota, insisted in a federal lawsuit last week that it is the legal owner of the broken Martin D-35, which "The King" played during his 1977 tour and gave to a fan in St. Petersburg, Florida after a strap and string snapped. But collector Larry Moss argues that Johnson agreed to sell the guitar to him before it was donated.
Johnson and Moss, both of whom live in Memphis, Tennessee, are each listed as defendants in the museum's complaint.
Moss had the opportunity to buy the guitar in 2007 but did not pay for it in full, Johnson told the Associated Press Thursday.
"Since Larry Moss never paid for the guitar, I had the right to donate the guitar."
A payment agreement dated in 2008 shows that Moss agreed to pay Johnson $120,000 for various guitars including the one in dispute. The agreement is part of the exhibits filed in a libel and defamation lawsuit that Johnson initiated against Moss in state court in Tennessee in January.
The court records also include a check Moss wrote to Johnson for $70,000 in connection with the payment agreement, as well as an email Moss sent to the museum in December 2013 claiming ownership.
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