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Byron Anthony LOOPER

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "Low Tax"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Former Republican politician
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 19, 1998
Date of arrest: 4 days after
Date of birth: September 15, 1964
Victim profile: Tennessee State Senator Tommy Burks, 58 (his election opponent)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Cumberland County, Tennessee, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison August 23, 2000. Died in prison on June 26, 2013
 
 
 
 
 
 
photo gallery
 
 
 
 
 
 

Byron (Low Tax) Looper (born Byron Anthony Looper on September 15, 1964), is a former Republican politician in Tennessee. In order to advance his political career, he legally changed his middle name from 'Anthony' to "Low Tax".

After being convicted for the October 1998 murder of his election opponent, incumbent Tennessee State Senator Tommy Burks, he is now serving a life sentence in Tennessee state prison.

Early life

Looper was born Byron Anthony Looper in Putnam County, Tennessee. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for three years, but was given an honorable discharge following a serious knee injury. After his discharge he moved to Georgia.

In 1987 he lost a race for the Georgia state House of Representatives as a Democrat. Following this loss, he took a job as a legislative aide for an uncle and fellow Democrat, Max Looper. The Georgia Democratic Party unofficially admitted that Max Looper was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan

Tax assessor

In 1992 Looper returned to Tennessee and became a staunch conservative Republican. He lost a race for the state house in 1994, but in 1996 he legally changed his middle name from Anthony to "(Low Tax)" and was backed by the Tennessee Republican Party in a race for the technically nonpartisan post of Putnam County Tax Assessor, which he won. He was the first Republican elected official at any level in Putnam County in over a century.

As tax assessor, Looper used his office's equipment to flood state media with a number of bizarre and self-congratulatory press releases, though he failed repeatedly to file property tax valuations with the state government on time.

Some charges were made that Looper offered reduced tax assessments to local businesses in exchange for large political contributions, although few if any businesses actually responded to the offer. Later, an ex-girlfriend sued him for child support and fraud, charging he had used his official position to steal her house.

In March of 1998, Looper was indicted on 14 counts of official misconduct, theft of services and official oppression. Looper claimed the charges were politically motivated due to Democratic control of Putnam County politics and the Tennessee General Assembly.

This was an expected argument due to Looper's past obsession with conspiracy theories and allegations of political witch hunts by Putnam County Democrats who were "out to get him" during his tenure as Tax Assessor.

The Cookeville Herald-Citizen regularly reported the Republican Tax Assessor's bizarre antics and public verbal assaults of Putnam County elected officials. The Tennessee Republican Party soon claimed no connection with Looper, though campaign contributions and lists of paid political consultants proved otherwise.

1998 primary campaigns

In 1998, Looper sought the Republican nominations for the 6th Congressional District of Tennessee and the Tennessee State Senate in the same primary. He lost the Congressional nomination to a candidate who was not under indictment, in fact finishing last in a field of four.

He won the state senate nomination by default, however, as he was the only Republican candidate on the ballot. This set up his campaign against conservative incumbent Democratic state senator Tommy Burks.

Burks had represented Putnam County in the state legislature for 28 years--eight in the State House and 20 in the State Senate. He was an old-style conservative Southern Democrat and a farmer who was popular in his district. The 1998 election looked to be as quiet as his previous nine.

Until October, in fact, the only news to come out of the campaign that made it beyond the borders of the district was Looper's legal change of his middle name from Anthony to "(Low Tax)." This was initially considered an amusing but bizarre gimmick by a gadfly candidate in a race he was destined to lose, and the race quickly receded into the background.

Murder

On the morning of October 19, authorities were called to investigate a likely murder at the Burks farm. Tommy Burks' body was found with his head resting on the steering wheel of his pickup truck. He had been speaking moments earlier with a farmhand, Wesley Rex, about work that needed to be done on the farm.

Both men had seen a black car, driven by a man in sunglasses and black gloves, driving by the farm on multiple occasions that morning. The car had later sped by Rex's truck, allowing Rex to get a view of the driver.

The Cumberland County authorities immediately began a standard homicide investigation but could find no one with any plausible reason to murder Burks. Then Rex called Burks' widow, Charlotte, after seeing a picture of Looper on television, and told her that Looper was the man he'd seen speeding away in the black car the morning of the murder.

Looper had disappeared. He made it to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he met with a friend, Marine recruiter Joe Bond. Bond and Looper had been friends as children, and Looper had rekindled the friendship in the summer of 1998, largely on the basis of wanting Bond's expertise in small arms. Bond would eventually become a key witness for the prosecution.

Looper had stayed with Bond for a while, talking a great deal about how he had murdered his Senate opponent and how he needed to, among other things, change the tires on the car he had used in the murder, as well as hide the car.

Trial

Looper was arraigned at a hearing that featured Bond as a surprise witness for the state. During the pre-trial phase, Looper attempted to have his former friend disgraced, and shuffled through at least six lawyers, one of whom filed a sealed court document explaining why, for ethical reasons, he could no longer be Looper's attorney.

The trial finally occurred in 2000. By this time, inmate road crews had found the weapon apparently used by Looper to commit the murder. Wes Rex and Joe Bond were both prominent witnesses for the prosecution, as were two political consultants who reported having been contacted at various times by Looper, who told both of them that he wanted to run a political race and felt the surest way to win would be to murder the opponent.

Though there was and remains some controversy about a number of defense witnesses who were not permitted to take the stand, Looper was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Following his conviction and sentencing, he was transferred to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee.

The campaign following the murder

Looper had done some homework. An obscure Tennessee state law required that a candidate's name be removed from the ballot and not replaced if he died within 30 days of the election. Even the Putnam County Election Commission did not know it existed before the Burks murder. Looper's name therefore was the only one listed on the ballot, and for a few days it looked like he would win by default.

Several people tried to have Looper's name stricken from the ballot, claiming that Looper's arrest constituted moral turpitude. Even though lists of campaign contributions and paid political advisors showed unquestionable ties to the Tennessee Republican Party, the state Republican Party distanced itself from Looper.

To counter Looper's potential election on a technicality, Charlotte Burks ran a write-in campaign for the seat. Dozens of volunteers helped her campaign, including several Republicans.

On election day, Charlotte Burks, as a write-in candidate, won the seat with 30,252 votes compared to Looper's 1,531 votes (she also received several write-in votes for governor and for Congress). Among the first bills she sponsored was one to repeal the state law that almost allowed Looper to win.

Postscript

Charlotte Burks remains a popular member of the State Senate. Looper made a court appearance on October 12, 2004 in which he requested a new trial, but the request was denied.

Quotation

"He was the first Republican elected in Putnam County, at least in recent memory, and he made quite a name for himself, but not a good name. He had a bombastic campaign style, a way of offending anyone that was status quo, and he did it repeatedly."óLooper's defense attorney, Ken Poston, in his opening statement to the jury

Copycats

  • Internet Personality Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka adopted his nickname as a reference to Byron Looper. When Looper was the Putnam County Tax Assessor, Kyanka almost took a summer job with him. In describing Byron, Kyanka wrote "He was a very insane little man who legally changed his middle name to '(Low Tax)'."

  • In 2006, deputy county assessor John Lower Taxes Loew ran against incumbent Los Angeles County assessor, Rick Auerbach. Loew lost the election by a 78-22 landslide.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Byron Low Tax Looper

Byron Looper was a Tennessee politician who ran for the Tennessee state senate in 1998. Although he didn't win the election, he became well-known across the state (and even the country) for his non-traditional campaign tactics. The incumbent Tommy Burks, a popular Democrat, was almost certain to win until he was found dead in his still-running truck on October 19, 1998. Under Tennessee law, any candidate who dies prior to the election must be removed from the ballot.

Byron Looper was convinced that Tennessee was run by the "Good old boy" network, a political machine that controlled every aspect of the state's politics. He was determined to change this any way he could. In 1996 he ran for the Putnam County tax assessor. He won a narrow victory against the incumbent after legally changing his middle name from Anthony to Low Tax and claiming that his opponent had fixed tax assessments to favor his friends, a claim which was completely fabricated. Still, taxes had gone up under the incumbent's watch, and Looper offered "A new kind of leader." He won the office by 1100 votes.

He claimed he was a new kind of leader, and everyone soon agreed that he was- he rarely showed up to work. He would often disappear for days at a time. He fired dozens of people for no reason at all and sent press releases to every newspaper in the state accusing the county commission of plotting against him. The people he fired filed a suit against him, charging that they were dismissed because they supported Looper's Democratic predecessor- a claim that he denied, revealing that he was secretly a Democrat himself. It turns out he was telling the truth, he had been a Democrat until he failed to gain the favor of the party officials. He changed parties after learning that there would be no GOP candidate for assessor. The local Democratic party chairman renounced his membership. Rumors soon began circulating that Byron was attending law school rather than working- he was listed as a student at the John Marshall School of Law in Georgia. He was the subject of nearly a dozen lawsuits, including one when he tried to give several properties to a neighboring county.

Low Tax had three of his employees photocopy more than 5000 pages of County Commission records, claiming he was investigating the "good ol' boy network that controls" Putnam County. He sued to make a number of documents public, only to learn that they already were. When he realized that he was quickly becoming unpopular with even his most dedicated supporters, he decided to back off. He issued a formal apology, writing off his aggressive style as "overzealousness" to create more fair taxation.

Tommy Burks was by all accounts a great guy. Nobody wanted to run against him simply because he was doing a great job representing the area in the state senate. Burks was a farmer through and through, running a successful pumpkin and tobacco farm. Looper knew that he had no chance of winning an election against Burks, In the summer of 1998, he told his friend Joe Bond that he had a sure-fire way of winning the election, all he needed was a gun. Used to Looper's sometimes sick sense of humor, Bond ignored the comment and helped Looper buy a 9mm handgun.

On a cool October morning, Tennessee State Senator Tommy Burks was headed to a pumpkin patch when farmhand Wesley Rex says he saw a black car pull up alongside Burks' parked pickup, then drive away quickly. Rex soon found his boss lifeless in his truck. Later, when a news broadcast aired a photo of Byron Low Tax Looper identifying him as the sole candidate for State Senate, Wesley identified the photo as the man driving the dark car.

Looper was arrested a few days later for the murder of Tommy Burks. He hid in Arkansas for a few days, where he confessed to Joe Bond, the friend who helped him obtain the gun. He lost the Senate election to Charlotte Burks, Tommy's widow in the largest write-in election in the state's history. He was removed from his tax assessor office in January of 1999. He was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.

 
 

Tennessee Senator's Killing and Opponent's Arrest Upend Small Town

By Rick Bragg - The New York Times

Saturday, October 24, 1998

In rural, rugged middle Tennessee, the race for one State Senate seat has been altered by a single bullet, and the surviving candidate in District 15 will watch the outcome from behind a jail door.

Tommy Burks, the popular Democrat who was expected to win re-election easily, is dead and buried. Mr. Burks, 58, was shot in the forehead on Monday at his 1,000-acre hog farm outside the little town of Monterey, not far from his pumpkin patch.

The crime left just one name on the ballot in the Nov. 3 election, that of the Republican challenger, Byron (Low Tax) Looper, who was arrested this morning and charged with the murder of Mr. Burks.

Because under state law a dead man may not appear on the ballot, but a man charged but not convicted of a felony may, only Mr. Looper's name will confront shaken citizens in voting booths.

Suddenly, negative television advertisements, name-calling and mud-slinging do not seem so bad, people here said.

''It's hard to believe,'' said Doug McBroom, the Putnam County Executive and a Democrat who, like others in his party and in an embarrassed Republican Party, said he will support the write-in candidacy of Charlotte Burks, the incumbent's widow, in her last-minute campaign for his office.

''This is supposed to be a system of the people, for the people,'' Mr. McBroom said. ''Something this bad, it strikes at the heart of that system.''

Others were more blunt.

''If he did it, they should string him up,'' said Patricia Hassler, who owns an antique shop in Monterey, a town with 2,872 residents.

Mr. Looper, 34, who had his middle name legally changed from Anthony to (Low Tax) to reflect his political philosophy, was in the Cumberland County Jail today, awaiting an arraignment, as people from wide places in the road, places like Hanging Limb, Muddy Pond and Lovejoy, asked themselves if simple politics was enough to motivate a murder.

''We feel real comfortable we've got the right person,'' said Sheriff Butch Burgess of Cumberland County, although he and other investigators would not say what evidence they had linking Mr. Looper to the crime, or what motive -- beyond political gain -- he might have had.

In fact, no one has an explanation, But people here said that Mr. Looper's political career, still new, had seemed self-destructive from the start.

Mr. Looper, the controversial Putnam County Tax Assessor who is under indictment on charges of theft and misuse of office and is the defendant in a paternity suit, was arrested at his home in Cookeville this morning about 1:15 by a deputy sheriff who was staking it out.

Mr. Looper had last been seen on Sunday night, the night before Mr. Burks's body was found in the cab of his pickup truck, a small bullet hole in his forehead. As late as on Thursday night, investigators had refused to call Mr. Looper a suspect, saying they were only searching for him to question him.

But around here, where Mr. Burks made a bounty of friends and allies in three decades in state politics, people were suspicious early on.

It was Mr. Looper's absence, more than anything, that made people suspicious. Four days passed without a word from him. If he had nothing to do with the crime, then why was he in hiding, people here wondered.

''It doesn't look good,'' said Jack Phillips, the Mayor of Monterey.

''It sure doesn't,'' said Clinton Wright, who was visiting with the Mayor.

Mr. Phillips, like others here, wondered why Mr. Looper never called the Burks family to offer sympathy. At least, people here said, it was bad manners. Mr. Looper's lawyer, Lionel Barrett of Nashville, was apparently the only person who spoke with him during his absence. Mr. Barrett said he spoke with his client again today but offered no insight into where he had been or why he had been missing.

Meanwhile, Democrats -- and some Republicans who said they disapproved of Mr. Looper's behavior in office -- drafted Mrs. Burks to run.

''Write-in campaigns are hard,'' said Mr. Phillips, ''but I think she can win.'' He, and others who know District 15 politics, say they doubt Mr. Looper can be elected. Mr. Phillips has donated his mayoral salary, all $500 of it for this year, he said with a smile, to Mrs. Burks's election.

All over Putnam County, people wave placards at the roadside to urge support for the write-in campaign.

Until the murder, it had not been shaping up as much of a race. Mr. Looper's campaign attracted little attention, and there seemed no bad blood between the candidates, people here said.

On one side of the election was the gray-haired Mr. Burks, who people here say they cannot remember ever seeing in a suit and tie.

''You'd see him in his rubber work boots, after slopping his hogs,'' Mrs. Hassler said. ''He was one of us. He was a good man, probably the only honest one we had.''

His politics, in the State House and Senate, sometimes put him at odds with his own party, and sometimes aligned him with Republicans. He fought against abortion and gambling, and for victims' rights.

He made his most controversial stand two years ago when he sponsored a bill that would have required the dismissal of teachers who taught evolution as fact. The bill failed.

But here in his district, he was far from controversial. Most people thought as he did, Mrs. Hassler said. He voted their will, she said.

On the other side was Mr. Looper, who, even before the events of this week, seemed in deep trouble.

Born in Tennessee, he was a student at West Point until, he said, a knee injury forced him to take an honorable discharge in 1985, The Associated Press reported. He moved to Georgia, where he ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature at 23. He was a legislative aide, then reportedly lived awhile in Puerto Rico.

He won his job as tax assessor in what many people here described as a negative campaign two years ago, promising to fight for lower taxes.

But quickly his career was marked by accusations of scandal, including charges that he had offered tax breaks to land developers in return for political contributions. The accusations led to Mr. Looper's indictment in March on charges of theft and misuse of office -- charges he denied. He is awaiting trial.

He is also being sued by a former girlfriend who said he fathered her baby and tried to transfer ownership of her home to his name by faking a deed.

In a statement after the woman filed suit, he said that she ''left me with heart palpitations, a small box of memorabilia and a red G-string.''

His manner bothered many here.

''His attitude was that we're all dumb, and he was here to save us,'' Mr. McBroom said. He talked down to Democrats, and promised favors to his Republican constituents, people here said.

He dismissed employees and insulted co-workers, courthouse workers said.

''He thought he was the smart one, but he kept getting caught,'' Mr. McBroom said.

Mr. Looper said he was being persecuted because he was a Republican, in a county dominated by Democrats.

Finding people to speak up for him is hard. One woman in Cookeville acknowledged voting for him, but begged not to have her name used in connection with him.

His race for the State Senate seemed to make no sense. He ran unopposed in the primary, because State Republican Party officials did not believe anyone could unseat Mr. Burks. The party did not endorse him because of his political history, state party leaders said this week.

It is possible, but unlikely, that he could win.

Write-in candidates almost always fail, but voters here said this is an unusual case.

''I think she will win,'' said Mr. Phillips of Mrs. Burks, who has had little to say publicly about her campaign. The voters, Mr. Phillips and others here said, will vote their broken hearts, and their outrage.

 
 

Political opponent charged in slaying

Deseret News

Friday, Oct. 23, 1998

The political opponent of a popular state senator who was shot to death this week was arrested Friday and charged with murder.

District Attorney General Bill Gibson told the NBC "Today" show that Byron (Low Tax) Looper was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Sen. Tommy Burks. He said Looper was arrested outside his house, which police were staking out, early Friday. He was arrested without incident.Looper is being held at the Cumberland County Jail, said Nancy Lewis of the sheriff's department.

Burks, 58, a well-liked and respected legislator for 28 years, was shot in his pickup truck as he was preparing for a school group to visit a pumpkin patch at his hog farm in nearby Monterey.

Looper, the Putnam County property assessor, had been missing since then.

Burks, a Democrat, was a heavy favorite against Looper, a Republican, who was indicted last March on charges of theft and misuse of office. He also is being sued for $1.2 million by a former girlfriend who claims he forced her to have sex and illegally transferred ownership of her home to his name.

On Thursday, authorities asked the public for help in finding Looper, 34, who legally changed his middle name to (Low Tax). But Gibson did not label Looper a suspect at that time.

Also Thursday, Looper's attorney, Lionel Barrett, confirmed he had spoken to his client and said Looper might be willing to discuss the case with police.

Barrett refused to say whether Looper had any knowledge about the murder. Barrett said Looper recognizes his disappearance "certainly has raised some legitimate questions."

Looper was born in Tennessee and attended West Point from 1983-85, then spent most of his 20s in Georgia, where his mother lived.

He ran for the Georgia House at 23 and lost, then worked three years as a legislative aide. After working various other jobs, he came back to Tennessee and lost a race for the state House in 1994. He won the Putnam County assessor's seat in 1996 after running a highly negative campaign against the incumbent.

Since then, he has fired employees, filed lawsuits against other public officials, been sued by former workers and been involved in a fist fight between his employee and a taxpayer.

Burks served four terms in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 1978. He never missed a day of work during his 28-year legislative career.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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