Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Assassination in Middle Tennessee

Last Minute Motions

The Cumberland County Courthouse was built in 1905, but had been modernized many times over the years. Like many county government buildings, it was ornate and impressive, but remained accessible to the citizens it served. On the courthouse lawn, apple blossoms emerged in early spring, and by the time the cast of the Looper drama re-appeared on the stage, the white blossoms had changed into small, green apples, prompting visits by hundreds of songbirds in search of an easy meal.

A gray, limestone building with a white cupola containing a large clock, the courthouse stands in the center of Crossville, an anachronism in a downtown that has been reborn through intense efforts of caring citizens. Statues and monuments dot the courthouse lawn, honoring veterans of the Revolutionary and Vietnam Wars, and every battle in between.   Somewhere, no one really remembers where, there was a time capsule planted by students in 1976, and there was another spot, more easily located, which marked the resting spot of a 2000 capsule planted just months earlier when the trees were bare and Byron Looper was still represented by Larry Warner and Howard Upchurch.

All of that stood as the backdrop to what locals were calling the trial of the century, the Tennessee version of the O.J. Simpson trial, and more than one reference was made to the last huge trial in the Volunteer State -- the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1922, where a local school teacher had gone on trial for teaching evolution as a science, not a theory. Tommy Burks, who publicly refused to believe he was descended from lower animals, would have had something to say about that trial, folks said amongst themselves.

Like the Scopes Trial, most people here didn't doubt that Looper was guilty. The evidence was overwhelming and Looper had even admitted to his friend that he had shot Tommy. But the question remained whether or not justice would be done for Tommy Burks' murder.

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