Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

June 28, 2013

Looper served his sentence

The would-be king of politics who instead gained national attention as Tennessee's most notorious political assassin has completed his prison sentence. Wednesday morning, Byron "Low Tax" Looper was found dead in his prison cell after having only served 13 years of a life without parole sentence.

On an early, fog-shrouded October morning in 1998, beloved and highly respected state Sen. Tommy Burks was shot to death as he sat in his pickup truck on a portion of his farm that lies in Cumberland County. He had risen early to make sure things were in order for an annual visit of school children to his farm. The children always looked forward to picking out a pumpkin to take home, and Sen. Burks always looked forward to hosting their visits.

A conservative Democrat who was a people's politician, Burks served in the Tennessee legislature for 28 years.

Looper immediately was the one and only suspect. He was running on the Republican ticket against Burks and because the murder took place within 30 days of the election, Democrats were prevented from placing another name on the ballot.

Besides, Burks' farm hand Wesley Rex saw Looper fleeing from the scene.

Looper's plan was foiled when Burks' widow, Charlotte Burks, became a write-in candidate and won the election, gaining 98 percent of the votes cast.

She still holds the office.

Looper went on trial in August 2000 for the killing of Tommy Burks aand fter just over two hours of deliberations, Looper was found guilty of first-degree murder and at the request of the Burks family, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

It was one of the biggest media events to ever take place in Cumberland  County, with TV satellite trucks from Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville and writers from dozens of publications covering portions or all of the legal process.

Wednesday, Criminal Court Judge David Patterson was sitting on the bench at the Cumberland County Justice Center when Deputy District Attorney approached the bench and shared the news that Looper had been found dead. Moments later, Patterson started receiving a host of messages from members of the legal community, bringing the news that one of the darkest chapters in Tennessee politics had come to a close.

Looper, 48, was pronounced dead at 11:10 a.m. in the Morgan County Correctional Complex. As is routine with all deaths of persons in state custody, an autopsy will be performed. In addition, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the cause of the death.

Earlier Wednesday, guards at the prison performed what Tennessee Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield  described as a "full level cell extraction," and that Looper had to be contained. He was treated at the prison's medical unit and later put in isolation. An hour later, he was found dead.

News of Looper's death rippled across the Cumberland County courtroom like water quietly lapping at a shoreline. Some took the news in disbelief; others with relief.

Patterson in 2000 worked for the District Attorney's Office and was chief architect of the case presented against Looper by state prosecutors. Whatever thoughts he had about the death of Looper he kept to himself. Others did not.

Former state Rep. Henry Fincher of Cookeville, an attorney, told WBIR-Channel 10 in Knoxville, " ... for me personally, it's good riddance to bad rubbish. That man killed my friend. He killed a father, a grandfather, he assassinated a political leader in an attempt to take over."

Fincher added that he realized his feelings might not be the proper thing to have, but he added during the interview, "It's probably not the Christian thing to do to say, you're glad that someone is dead. I'm not glad he's dead but I've got to tell you there's a grim satisfaction in it."

On the other hand, one of Looper's trial attorneys commented, "Upon hearing of the death of my former client Byron (Low Tax) Looper, my thoughts are with the family of the late Senator Tommy Burks, as well as with the Looper family.  

"The case was always a tragic one, with the loss of a beloved Tennessee state senator, as well as the conviction and now death of a colorful character in both Georgia and Tennessee politics.  The fact that Byron was an unusual, if often difficult, client, is well documented. His family in Georgia deserves to mourn their loss in peace."

Media outlets attempted to contact state Sen. Charlotte Burks but she has declined comment.

1
Text Only
Area News
  • Panel OKs budget amendments

    The Cumberland County Budget Committee approved a $134,506 budget amendment for the Cumberland County Solid Waste Department in order to accept a grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for enhanced waste oil collection.

    April 16, 2014

  • Council votes to seek RFQs for wastewater operation

    The city of Crossville has had a 20-year relationship with Veolia Water, the contractor that currently operates the wastewater treatment plant for the city, and while council members say they don't have a problem with the company's service, they have voted to send out requests for qualifications (RFQ) to determine if they have the best company operating the facility.

    April 16, 2014

  • Police: Couple sets up house in Tansi pool

    A Lake Tansi couple who suddenly found themselves without shelter set up a temporary home in an indoor pool area at the resort/retirement community, according to police arrest reports.

    April 16, 2014

  • certifying machines.jpg Certifying early voting machines

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mobile Vet Center in town Wednesday

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will have a Mobile Vet Center (MVC) in Crossville at the Cumberland County Community Complex 1398 Livingston Rd. on Wednesday, April 16. MVC 844 will be at the Community Complex from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

    April 15, 2014

  • The Palm Tree Revisited

    Palm Sunday is right around the corner. Since we don't have palm trees in our neck of the woods, there probably aren't many people who think about their unique characteristics. Several years ago I read a devotional by Dr. Cecil A. Fayard Jr., “The Palm Tree Revisited,” and want to share some highlights.

    April 15, 2014

  • Crossville breakfast rotary.jpg Rotarians support United Fund

    On Wednesday, March 26, Crossville Breakfast Rotary President Jeff Vires presented a $1,000 check from the Crossville Breakfast Rotary Club to Carmen Wyatt, board president of United Fund, and Holly Neal, executive director of the United Fund. The United Fund of Cumberland County, Inc. provides administrative and other central services for the public and private health, welfare, character building and recreation, education service, charitable and philanthropic agencies and community organizations and the general public of Crossville, Cumberland County and the vicinity.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • tree of distinction.jpg Tree of Distinction?

    In the articles on Trees of Distinction, the Crossville Tree Board usually highlights a tree in the community that is an exemplary specimen of the species.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bids OK'd for used oil collection program

    Several bids were approved recently by the Cumberland County Financial Management Committee for the purchase and installation of equipment for a used oil collecting program from an oil grant awarded by the state for the county's solid waste and recycling department.

    April 14, 2014

  • No show burglary defendant pleads to 8 years

    A Cumberland County man who at least twice failed to appear in court for his trial on burglary and theft charges pleaded guilty in Cumberland County Criminal Court and received an eight-year prison sentence.

    April 14, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
Parade
AP Video
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar