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Political controversy brewing in wake of state senator killing (10-26-98)

Political opponent of slain state senator charged with murder (10-23-98)


The Tennessean Web site


Post your opinions on the November races

Farmhand saw suspect with murdered state senator, heard 'pop'

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AllPolitics, October 27) -- A farmhand of slain state Sen. Tommy Burks saw the man charged with the murder approach Burks on his farm and heard a "pop sound" before the suspect sped away, according to a police affidavit released Monday.

Wesley Rex said he saw Byron (Low Tax) Looper drive alongside Burks' truck on October 19, the affidavit said. After hearing the noise, Rex found his boss "slumped over in his truck with blood in his ear."

Tommy Burks  

Burks died that day from a single gunshot wound near his left eye. The Republican Looper was to face off with the popular Democratic incumbent on November 3.

On Friday, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department arrested Looper and charged him with first-degree murder.

Rex told the authorities he passed Looper on the dirt road leading to Burks' farm. After the two men spoke briefly, Looper continued on toward the farm and pulled up next to the pickup truck Burks was sitting in.

According to the affidavit, Rex next heard a "pop sound." Looking back in his rearview mirror, the farmhand saw the Looper's car speed away from the scene back up the dirt road. Looper drove up behind Rex and then turned right and drove toward Crossville, Tennessee, the document said.

Burks was expected to easily beat Looper in the upcoming election.

Investigators have not said whether the political rivals had had any previous confrontations before the killing.

A producer for "The Daily Show" on cable television's Comedy Central network, however, told The Tennessean Monday that Looper made strange, derogatory remarks about Burks during an interview three weeks before the murder.

Byron (Low Tax) Looper  

Producer Evan Cutler said he was unnerved during the 30-minute telephone interview when Looper called Burks a "Neanderthal," among other things, and said he would expose the "old boy" network in the Cookeville area.

"I couldn't believe how a guy who is the Republican candidate for a state Senate seat would talk this way about his opponent," Cutler told The Tennessean. "I didn't like it because I had talked with Tommy Burks and he sounded like a genuinely nice guy."

Burks' name will be removed from the ballot, but since he died less than 30 days before the election Democrats cannot replace the Monterey farmer with another candidate. Last week, Burks' wife, Charlotte, announced she will run as a write-in candidate.

Looper, 34, who has legally added (Low Tax) to his name, will remain on the Republican line of the ballot despite the fact that the Republican Party has withdrawn its support for his candidacy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Tuesday, October 27, 1998

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