Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Assassination in Middle Tennessee

Witnesses and Evidence

Prosecutors got a break in the Looper case in early March when a road crew found a 9mm handgun along Interstate 40 near Cookeville and turned it over to police. Ballistic tests showed that the weapon was the gun that killed Tommy Burks the year before. The semi-automatic pistol was in poor shape, but its serial number was readable and was quickly traced back to a close Looper friend - former Monterey Mayor and Assessor's office employee John Bowden. Bowden acknowledged that he had once owned the gun, but that he had sold it in 1997 or 1998 to a flea market gun dealer.

Bowden and Looper had been political cronies, and when Bowden was defeated in a December 1997 election, Looper hired him as a "tax investigator".

Because the gun could only be traced as far as Bowden, Looper's defense attorneys would latch on to that fact as proof of reasonable doubt in the case. Bowden denied ever giving the gun to Looper, and said he sold it at a flea market because he didn't like the weapon, which featured a built-in safety, not an exterior one.

A central part of Looper's defense was his insistence that he was framed as part of a wide-reaching political plot, and as proof of that plot he offered the testimony of John Wayne Dedmon, 33,    who had rented a room from Looper and worked off criminal charges of his own by serving as a police informant.

Dedmon, Looper alleged, had secretly recorded prosecutor Gibson in 1998, prior to Looper's run against Bart Gordon for U.S. Congress, and had Gibson on tape asking Dedmon to "set him up." Gibson denied that any such conversation ever took place and some people who heard the tape said the voice was not his.

In 1997, Dedmon, facing charges of passing bad checks, began working for Gibson as an undercover informant. He infiltrated a local gambling ring that was using pinball machines for illegal gaming. Dedmon made the tape of Gibson after he became enraged when the prosecutor used money Dedmon had earned as an informant to pay restitution for Dedmon's bounced checks.

The tape, reportedly made on October 27, 1997, contains the following dialogue:

"'GIBSON': John, I got a problem I need you to take care of.

DEDMON: What's that?

'GIBSON': I want you to set up Byron Looper.

DEDMON: What do you mean, like what I did in Crossville?

'GIBSON': Yes, you know what I mean. Do whatever you gotta do; just get     it done. Whatever it takes."

Prosecutors immediately went to Judge Daniel who issued a gag order and barred the principals in the case from talking publicly about any aspect of the Burks murder from this point forward.

Trant also said that he intended to introduce the tape into evidence in Looper's murder trial and a hearing was set by Daniel to rule on that motion.

When Dedmon failed to show up for that hearing Daniel agreed to table Trant's motion.

John Wayne Dedmon vanished and the $42,000 Corvette he had purchased - with a worthless check, no less - turned up abandoned. A suicide note was found in his room. For the first time, Looper broke a four-month silence and talked to a Nashville newspaper about his case and his missing friend.

"I am afraid that something bad has happened to my friend John," Looper said. "It could be that he has met with foul play."

Looper said Dedmon had wanted to testify in the hearing, but he had been warned by the 'good ol' boy network" against it.

Daniel issued a warrant for Dedmon's detention.

Something bad did happen to John Dedmon, but it was of his own making. Dedmon, an admitted drug abuser, showed up at his mother's home about a week later and in a fit of rage destroyed the windows of a parked car.   A few hours later Dedmon showed up at Cookeville Regional Hospital and on doctors' orders was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Chattanooga.

While Dedmon was recuperating in Chattanooga, suffering from depression, Trant was sideswiped by revelations that Dedmon    was talking to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecutors about an alleged attempt by Trant to get him to take the fall for Looper's crimes.

"He (Trant) asked me how much money it would take for me to take the fall for Byron or if I could find somebody to do it," Dedmon said in a statement. "I told him there wasn't no amount of money that could make me do that."

Trant was incensed.

"I will take a lie-detector test, and I ask Mr. Dedmon to do the same," Trant wrote in answer to Dedmon's charges. "And when he fails, I suggest that the district attorney consider perjury charges against him."

Trant said Dedmon had possibly become delusional because of the pressure and admitted that the Gibson tape may be a fake.   The damage to his defense strategy was irreparable, and quickly Trant and Looper became distant.

When Dedmon, in treatment for drug abuse and depression, failed to answer two subpoenas issued by Daniel, the judge ordered him picked up from Chattanooga. He appeared in court, dressed in a standard jailhouse orange jumpsuit, appearing dazed and bedraggled.

"I don't remember nothing past about three months ago," Dedmon told the court when he was compelled to testify about the infamous tape and his allegations. "I've been on drugs real bad, and I can't recall anything."

Even still, Dedmon continued to assert he was the real set-up target; he claimed Looper's younger brother offered him $6,000 or $7,000 to keep his mouth shut about what he knew about the case.

He also tried to stick to his story about Trant asking him to take the fall, but his disjointed answers, combined with his difficulty in remembering most details, made the story appear implausible. Maybe it was Trant who approached him, maybe it was Burgess. Dedmon couldn't recall.

Daniel ruled that the tape was as unreliable as Dedmon was and said it would not be admitted into evidence. He sternly warned both sides to put the matter to rest.

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