CBSN

Ex-Tenn. Politician Begins Murder Trial

Saks Fifth Avenue employees parade goats through midtown Manhattan to promote their fall line of sweaters during Olympus Fashion Week, Sept. 15, 2005.
AP Photo/John Smock
Byron (Low Tax) Looper decided to resolve his 1998 state Senate race against Tommy Burks "with a bullet instead of a ballot," the prosecution said Monday morning during the opening of Looper's murder trial.

Looper, at the time the property assessor in Putnam County, was challenging longtime incumbent Burks for his Senate seat when Burks was shot and killed on his farm.

"Byron Looper is a man obsessed with the burning desire for power and public office," District Attorney Bill Gibson said. "He is also a man who knew he didn't have a chance at beating Tommy Burks.

"Byron Looper had a plan: a plan to resolve this election with a bullet instead of a ballot."

Later, defense attorney McCracken Poston said Looper "did not do it."

He also contended Looper, 35, had no reason to kill Burks because he knew Burks' widow would get the seat if Burks died, which happened when Charlotte Burks overwhelmingly won a write-in campaign that November.

"The evidence is going to show that Byron Looper knows how to win an election. The evidence also is going to show that he knows how to lose one and move on," Poston said. "Mr. Looper's weapon has always been words, and that's never changed."

Burks, 58, was a popular, well-respected and dedicated lawmaker in Tennessee and the clear favorite to win the 1998 election against Looper. The Democrat had served 28 years in the Tennessee Legislature never missing one day while overseeing a hog and tobacco farm in Cumberland County with his wife.

Looper, a Republican who had legally changed his middle name to (Low Tax), had been at West Point but dropped out, and his personal life was unstable.

Looper's mother and father divorced when he was a boy. He has a son from an estranged girlfriend, but acknowledged the boy as his son only after being threatened with a DNA test and lawsuit.

He twice lost elections for public office before finally being elected Putnam County property assessor in 1996.

Two years later, he sought to unseat Burks.

On Oct. 19, 1998, police say, Looper acted to ensure his victory. As Burks sat in his pickup truck on a gravel road at his farm, an unfamiliar car pulled alongside.

Farmhand Wesley Rex said he heard a single "pop," then saw the car speed away and Burks slump in his seat. Burks died instantly of a shot to the head.

At a pretrial hearing, Rex identified Looper as the driver of the speeding car.

A former high school friend of Looper, Joe Bond, testified that Looper visited him 16 hours after the killing and told him: "I killed that dude. The guy I was running against."

Looper disappeared the day of the shooting, then resurfaced four days later at his Cookeville home and surrendered to waiting police. He offered the officers sodas before he was arrested on first-degree murder charges.

©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed