About the same time that the most despicable figure in recent Tennessee political history was found dead in a prison cell last week, a small group of folks gathered in the state House chamber to remember a man they saw as one of the most admirable and respected figures in that history.
I never knew William L. “Dick” Barry, who during tumultuous times presided over 98 other representatives in that ornate chamber as House speaker for four years, from 1963 to 1967, then served as right-hand man to Gov. Buford Ellington and then as mentor and adviser — plus, at least once, also as a backstage organizer of an unorthodox bipartisan coalition. He died quietly, aged 88, in the town of Lexington, Tenn., where he was born and where — in accord with his instructions — no formal funeral was held.
But I trust the judgment of those who did know him, including members of the mostly gray-haired bipartisan coalition that gathered Wednesday. Based on them, and the commentary of others, he was a remarkable and insightful man of great intellect with perhaps even more remarkable modesty.
Wednesday was an emotional day for the Burks family as they learned the about the death of the man convicted of the murder of one of their influential family members, reports the Cookeville Herald-Citizen. Byron “Low Tax” Looper was found unresponsive in his jail cell late Wednesday morning in Wartburg in East Tennessee, where he was serving life in prison for the 1998 murder of state Senator Tommy Burks.
“We’ve got a lot of different emotions running right now,” Kim Blaylock, Tommy Burks daughter, said Wednesday afternoon a few hours after the news broke.
Blaylock found out when the TBI came by her office when they couldn’t reach her mother, state Sen. Charlotte Burks.
“They wanted to tell her before it came out in the media,” she said. “It’s been an emotional day for all of us.”
Charlotte Blaylock Looper, granddaughter, said on Facebook, “I would like to say thank you very much to everyone for the calls, messages and prayers. It is very nice to know my family and I have been blessed with so many supportive friends.”
Bill Gibson was the district attorney at the time of the murder and prosecuted Looper.
“It was the highest profile case that I ever handled as DA,” he said. “I’m just feeling a lot of mixed emotions at the news of his death. We lived that case for many months. We knew he would die in prison one day.”
Deputy District Attorney Tony Craighead was on the prosecuting team with Gibson and feels this is the closure of one of the most tragic cases in Tennessee history.
“I’m proud of the fact that I had a part in putting him in prison, although I can never take satisfaction in that because of Senator Burks’ death,” he said. “I knew Tommy. He was a wonderful man. It was a horrible tragedy. I’ve been prosecuting cases for 21 years now and I’ve done dozens of murder cases, and this was one of the most well-investigated and complete cases I’ve ever been involved in.”
Now that Looper’s dead, Craighead said maybe it will be a time to remember all the good that Burks did.
About two hours before Byron “Low Tax” Looper was found dead in a prison cell Wednesday morning, he reportedly assaulted a pregnant female counselor, according to the Chattanooga TFP. An incident report from the Morgan County Correctional Complex reveals what happened in the hours before the death of Looper, who was serving a life sentence in East Tennessee for assassinating his political opponent, Sen. Tommy Burks, in 1998.
The incident report accuses Looper of hitting the counselor, who was 34 weeks pregnant, in the head about 8:55 a.m. Wednesday. Guards responded to the assault and restrained Looper, the report states, “with the least amount of force necessary.”
….The report states that earlier that morning Looper was standing nearby when his counselor and a prison unit manager were talking about a request he had made. That’s when, authorities say, he held his hands out and hit the counselor on both sides of her head, knocking off her glasses.
The report doesn’t specify the request Looper made, but two sources said Looper recently had been told he was going to be placed back in the prison’s general population, and he didn’t want that because he was afraid of being hurt.
Looper, who legally changed his middle name to “Low Tax,” ran against Burks, a popular Democrat, in 1998.
Burks, who had held office in Tennessee for 28 years, was found slumped over in his truck on his farm in Monterey on Oct. 19, 1998, shot near his left eye. Looper was charged in the crime and convicted of first-degree murder.
Byron (Low Tax) Looper, convicted of the first-degree murder of state Sen. Tommy Burks, died this morning in Morgan County Correctional Complex, reports the News Sentinel. Looper, 48, was found unresponsive inside his cell in Wartburg, according to a news release from the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Correction.
He was pronounced dead at 11:10 a.m. He was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for Burks’ murder.
TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to assume the lead into the investigation of Looper’s death, according to the news release. District Attorney General Russell Johnson has approved the request.
Johnson said Wednesday afternoon details are sketchy and unconfirmed, but he was told guards performed what he was told was a “full level cell extraction” and Looper had to be contained.
The DA said he was told Looper was treated at the prison’s medical unit and was then put in an isolation cell. Looper was found dead about an hour later, Johnson said he was told.
Johnson said he notified state Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, of the death of her husband’s murderer.
Looper was convicted of first-degree murder in the assassination on Oct. 19, 1998, of Burks, a 28-year veteran of the state Legislature. Looper, running as a Republican, was Democrat Burks’ political opponent in that year’s election.
Looper officially changed his middle name from Anthony to (Low Tax) in 1996, and was elected as Putnam County Tax Assessor that year.