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The Powerhouse of the Upper Cumberland since 1996

The Ballad of Byron Looper, by David Wyper
can be heard as a RealAudio file by clicking here
For more, email David Wyper <>
Jury finds Looper guilty of 1st degree murder;
sentences him to life in prison without parole
Justice denied

Putnam Pit editor
CROSSVILLE, Tenn.(Aug. 23, 2000) – A jury took fewer than three hours to find former Putnam County Assessor of Property Byron (Low Tax) Looper guilty of murder in the first degree in the Oct. 19, 1998 killing of Sen. Tommy Burks.

The verdict came on the eighth day of the trial, in which defense lawyers argued that the unpopular Looper’s  prosecution was a snowball built of dislike for the defendant, incompetence of the state investigators, lying state witnesses and altered or fabricated evidence.

The state never linked the murder weapon to the defendant, could not prove his car was used to drive to Burks’ farm, and testimony suggested that Burks saw his killer drive by moments before his death but did not recognize his opponent for Senate in the state election to be held two weeks later.

Furthermore, the jury reached its verdict without the benefit of knowing an informant swore District Attorney General Bill Gibson was taped asking him to set up Byron Looper, even if the informant had to lie to do it; Gibson fought giving a sample of his voice to see if it matched he voice on the tape; Gibson singled out Looper for misconduct in office but called off investigations of other officials who stole money, altered documents or committed other felonies; Gibson fought to keep witnesses who saw Looper in Georgia around the time of Burks' murder from testifying.

At a session with reporters after the sentencing, Gibson said he would not comment on  whether there would be an investigation into Monterey Police Officer Tim Murphy’s assertion that he purchased guns for local politicians, one of which was the murder weapon.

The Putnam Pit has asked the FBI whether a federal law would be broken by a police officer lying on a federal ATF form to purchase for a politician a weapon or equipment restricted to law enforcement use.

The Putnam Pit has asked Cookeville police for access to documents showing which local residents have taken a course required before a permit to carry a concealed weapon can be obtained, but police said because the forms include Social Security numbers they would charge to copy the forms and scratch out the numbers.

DA Gibson won't comment on whether cop who lied to illegally procure Burks murder weapon for Monterey Mayor John Bowden will be prosecuted 

"This is a political trial"
Lawyer argues DA Gibson jumped on Looper as a suspect when Sen. Burks was killed because it was a convenient way to stop the political attacks against the good ol' boys
What the Looper jury did not know:
  • Sworn affidavit says Gibson was taped asking informant to set up Byron Looper, even if the informant had to lie to do it. File
  • Gibson fought giving a sample of his voice to see if it matched the voice on the tape. 
  • Gibson singled out Looper for misconduct in office but called off investigations of other officials who stole money, altered documents or committed other felonies. Recent example
  • Gibson fought to keep witnesses who saw Looper in Georgia around the time of Burks' murder from testifying. Link

  • District Attorney General
    Bill Gibson
    Lawyer says state's case fails
    to link Looper to Burks’ death

    CROSSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Friday, Aug. 18, 2000 -- 
    Former Monterey mayor John Bowden testified that in March 1997, he purchased two 9mm pistols from a Georgia dealer. One of those pistols was found last year in the brush along Interstate 40 near Cookeville and determined to be the gun used to kill Burks in October 1998, police said. Story

    Woman who says Looper spoke of shooting opponent in 1988 Georgia election can't tell story to jury, judge rules 

    Putnam Pit staff

    CROSSVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 17, 2000) -- Suzanne Allen, a former high school classmate, testified Thursday that Byron (Low tax) Looper had made gestures like shooting a gun while discussing how he might win a 1988 Georgia legislature seat.

    The revelation came with the jury out of the court room during the fourth day of Looper's trial on charges of first degree murder in the Oct. 19, 1998 shooting death of Sen. Tommy Burks.

    Judge Steve Daniel ruled the jury should not hear the testimony.

    Meanwhile, Looper's lawyer, Ron Cordova, told jurors that Looper could not have won the election by default by killing Burks, against whom he was running for senate, because state law at that time stated that when a candidate dies or is disqualified, the election goes to the write in candidate with the most votes. 

    Because Looper's name was on the ballot it was unlikely he would have garnered any write-in votes, he said.
    Sen. Charlotte Burks, who won her husband's seat in a write-in campaign, testified the law was changed in 1999 to prevent a dead candidate's name from being removed from the ballot. Instead, if the winner is not living, a successor will be appointed.
    Sen. Charlotte Burks testified Thursday

    Byron (Low Tax) Looper, right, in court Thursday with his attorneys, Ron Cordova, left, and McCracken Poston, center. (Pool photo)

    You can control some of the people 
    some of the time . . . but not out-of-state lawyers
    From automobile repair evidence to identifying the murder weapon, Bill Gibson's prosecution of Byron Looper is being built on altered documents and hostile witnesses. Pushy, abusive investigators, rude prosecutors and unprepared direct examination in court have put Bill Gibson's poor performance and incompetence in the national spotlight, thanks to a pair of out of state lawyers who came not to deal away Byron Looper, but to make the state prove its case -- something Gibson may not be able to do without intimidation and favors or payoffs. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the states own witnesses did more harm than good, from a cop who illegally bought weapons for politicians but is not being investigated, to a Marine who's whole background has yet to be explored. So far, Gibson has been able to keep his attempt to pay an informant to set Looper up from the jury, but how long can this balancing act continue before Judge Steve Daniel sees the wanton disregard for propriety that defines the case? Looper may have killed Tommy Burks, but Gibson's prosecution of the case is working against a conviction. If Looper is acquitted, Gibson, Abston, Coomer and the rest of the power abusers will have faced opposition that may destroy their racketeering efforts to steal, cheat and lie to further their criminal acts.
    Monterey cop buys guns for politicians

    Effort to link Byron Looper to Tommy Burks murder weapon blows up in DA Gibson's face

    Cop says he lied to state investigators about buying guns for politicians because he was afraid and ashamed; says mayor gave him $700 cash to buy restricted equipment used to kill senator

    Putnam Pit editor
    CROSSVILLE, Tenn. [Aug. 15, 2000] - The government's attempt to link defendant Byron (Low Tax) Looper to the gun that killed Sen. Tommy Burks blew up in its face Tuesday.

    Monterey Police Officer Tim Murphy said the 9 mm murder weapon was one of two he bought for local politicians in March 1997 by lying on a federal form required before he could make the purchase from a Georgia distributor.

    Murphy said then-Monterey Mayor John Bowden gave him $700 cash to buy two 9 mm guns, and that Murphy knew he lied on a federal form when he stated they were for his own professional use. Murphy confessed under cross examination that he had lied frequently to state investigators and crafted his statements to make his actions appear legal.

    "Is it that you lied about all things," defense lawyer Ron Cordova asked, "or certain things?"

    After a pause, Murphy answered, "Certain things."

    Murphy said he stopped lying on March 3, 1999, after he broke down during an interview with state investigators.

    But some of what he testified to on Tuesday was inconsistent with other facts in the case.

    For example, the general manager of GT Distributors testified each of the Smith and Wesson guns was sold with two magazines, one in the weapon and one spare. The magazines are restricted to law enforcement use. But Murphy only accounted for three magazines.

    Later, a former employee of Looper's testified she found a gun a month before the murder under the former tax assessor's couch when she was cleaning. Prosecutors produced a signed statement and a page from a weapons catalog on which her initials were adjacent to a picture of the model weapon the state says Looper killed Burks with.

    But on cross examination, Sheila Johnson identified a different gun as the one she saw at Looper's house, and she said she told prosecutors weeks ago that she was pressured to sign the earlier statement by state investigators. 

    She said she had nothing against District Attorney General William Gibson, who attends her church and who personally bought her a lawn mower when hers was stolen.

    Prosecutors tried to link Johnson romantically to Looper, but she said that while he did "come on" to her "as any man would," he did not pursue her and there was never any improper contact.

    Earlier, former Looper friend Joe Bond, a marine recruiter and gun enthusiast, testified Looper admitted killing Burks on Oct. 19, 1998. But Judge Steve Daniel refused to allow the defense to tell the jury he was disciplined repeatedly by the military and had been involved in a gun incident himself.

    From The Tennessean:

    Grisly video opens case against Looper 

    Byron Looper
    Byron Looper, left, listens to prosecutors' opening statements in his murder trial with his attorneys McCracken Poston, background, and Ron Cordova. 
    By Leon Alligood / Tennessean Staff Writer 

    CROSSVILLE, Tenn. -- The videotape in the hushed courtroom played without narration. 

     For state Sen. Charlotte Burks, who hid her eyes during most of it, there was no need for words to explain. On the jerky screen was her husband of more than 30 years, state Sen. Tommy Burks, whom she replaced in the Senate.  Story

    From the Associated Press

    Witness certain  it was Looper

    Farmhand later found body of Burks
           August 15, 2000
    By Jason Strait, Associated Press
    CROSSVILLE -- The farmhand who found the body of state Sen. Tommy Burks testified Monday he was "100 percent" certain it was Byron (Low Tax) Looper he saw drive down the same road moments earlier.

    Wesley Rex said during the first day of testimony at Looper's murder trial that he was on the gravel farm road on the morning of Oct. 19, 1998, when a black car passed him with Looper driving.

    "I took off about 100 yards, and then I heard a 'pop,'" Rex said, adding he thought the sound was gravel hitting his car. Story

  • Looper discussion
  • Other Looper stories
  • Looper polls revisited
  • Readers have more faith in murder suspect Looper than in Bible-thumping DA, polls find 

  • DA's expenses in Looper trial go online
    The Putnam Pit is gathering documents detailing expenses submitted by DA Bill Gibson in the prosecution of Byron (Low Tax) Looper for the alleged murder of Sen. Tommy Burks, and other information regarding the government's activities in the case. Click here for the first installment in .PDF format.