Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Assassination in Middle Tennessee

The End of the Beginning

A couple of anniversaries would be marked before there was more activity in the Byron Looper murder case. For his part, Looper celebrated his birthday in jail for the first time and the first anniversary of Tommy Burks' death passed, as well. Christmas came and went and Looper    was allowed one present - store-prepared and sealed food - to celebrate the holiday.

Here and there, little bits of evidence turned up. A cashier at the drive-up window at Hardee's in Crossville reported that a man matching Looper's description caused a small scene shortly before the slaying; his order was incorrect and he sat at the drive-thru waiting for it to be corrected, the woman testified. When the order was complete, Looper "threw the money at the window," she said.

Another witness placed Looper near the scene of the crime after the shooting took place. This woman reported seeing him driving away from the Burks farm and said Looper gave her "a mean look" as they passed each other.

For his part, Looper and his defense attorneys were keeping a low profile as the winter passed. Warner and Upchurch convinced Daniel in a closed-door hearing that even Looper was barred from attending that it was unreasonable to proceed with the February trial and Daniel reluctantly pushed the trial back into August.

The deadline for Looper    to offer an alibi defense had passed without notice on his part. Defendants must file notice that they are planning to offer an alibi so that the prosecution has time to independently verify or dispute the facts of the alibi witness or evidence. In fact, the alibi deadline had passed first around the time the court was trying to cut through the John Wayne Dedmon mess, but Trant had succeeded in convincing Daniel to extend the deadline over Gibson's objections. Then Trant stepped aside and Larry Warner allowed the deadline to pass without filing any motions for extension or notification of an alibi.

The alibi witness issue would come back into play in late summer, when the murder trial of Byron Looper would finally begin. But it was only April, and that meant Byron had plenty of time to fire Warner and Upchurch and bring in a new legal "dream team."

Looper summoned the editor of the Crossville Chronicle, Mike Moser, and complained that he was not being represented fairly. After more than a year in jail, Looper told Moser that he distrusted his court-appointed lawyers and that the case was not progressing as he wanted.

"You can't take a soap box derby winner to the Daytona 500, even if Jeff Gordon is the driver, and expect to win," Looper told Moser in the jailhouse interview. "You have to have a level playing field, and that is what I want.

Looper was reluctant to talk about specifics of his case, except to say that his family had found two other attorneys that he would like to see take the case.

McCraken "Ken" Poston, a skilled defense attorney who served in the Georgia legislature and had known Looper from his days as an aide, wanted in on the case. Looper said his mother had taken out a second mortgage on her home to pay his fee. The second lawyer, Ron Cordova, was a former Orange County, California prosecutor who had been following the case out of personal interest and said if Poston was going to serve as counsel, he would donate his services for free.

"My family felt like we needed attorneys removed from pressures of the political fray," Looper explained. "And quite frankly, I agree."

Looper said with the continuance fought for by Upchurch, bringing in two new attorneys at this stage, wouldn't delay the proceedings at all.

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