Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Assassination in Middle Tennessee

Lawyers Come, Lawyers Go

But within a few moments, Daniel's next decision in the Looper case would force him to reconsider his pauper status. Trant, a 20-year trial lawyer and former head of the Knox County Democratic Committee, no longer wanted to represent Looper. He had previously filed a motion citing irreconcilable differences with his client and made vague references to ethical concerns.

"I regret that I have to make this motion, but it has come to the point where I can no longer ethically represent Mr. Looper," Trant told Daniel.

Trant said defending the case in the manner Looper wanted would result in a violation of Tennessee Disciplinary Rule 7-102, which deals with representing a client within the bounds of the law.

Gibson, while conceding that Trant faced a dilemma, did not want to have to start over with new attorneys. He urged Daniel not to allow Trant to step aside.

"Apparently, he is in a situation where he's being asked to do what is unethical," Gibson said sympathetically. "But Mr. Looper has a history of running through lawyers, and at some point we need to stop changing attorneys and proceed with this case."

Daniel, however, granted Trant's request, ordering him to file under court seal the exact nature of his ethical dilemma. He also ordered Trant to cooperate fully with whomever Looper hired next.

By the end of July, Looper once again was claiming pauper status, and for the first time, asked the state to pay the full cost of his defense - including attorneys. In addition to new lawyers, Looper wanted a fax machine, telephone, computer and modem, legal references and he wanted the pay scale for court-appointed attorneys raised. In his pauper motion, Looper was representing himself and made assertions that he was unable to get a fair trial.

"The state has had at least three attorneys involved with this case at all times," he wrote. "For the defendant to get a fair trial relative to the Constitutions (sic) , it is essential that the inequities be corrected immediately."

Byron Looper in court
Byron Looper in court

Looper's bombastic style hadn't been dulled by nearly a year behind bars, and he used his "Motion for Due Process Notice and the Right to be Heard" to take shots at his adversaries, demanding opportunity to cross-examine the investigator who previously stated Looper still had resources to pay for his defense.

"Defendant insists that Byron Looper's longtime political adversary, DA Billy Gibson, testify to the location of the defendant's alleged 'pot of gold at the end of the rainbow' so the defense can give a bondsman a few of the gold coins for bond," Looper wrote.

Looper also chided Daniel for allowing Trant to voice his complaints about his client in open court. Such conduct, Byron said, had severely hampered his defense. Looper questioned the judge's neutrality.

"The Court has not only allowed, but encouraged the defendant's attorney-client privilege to be damaged privately and publicly with great prejudice to the defendant," Looper wrote.

Daniel agreed to a court-appointed attorney for Looper. Crossville attorney Larry Warner was appointed to act as defense    counsel in the case. Warner, a little more than a month after he was appointed, appeared before Daniel, asking for help in his case.

"I have spent a lot of time on this case," Warner told Daniel. "I'd say 50 percent or more of my time on some days. I still need some assistance," he pleaded. "I need some help. Another lawyer."

Gibson said Looper and Warner didn't need to start from scratch, but only needed to pick up where Doug Trant left off and move ahead. While he was speaking to Daniel, the judge had noticed that Gibson had two assistants in court that day. The three-to-one ratio was unfair, he decided and appointed Howard Upchurch to assist Warner. Daniel also agreed to move Looper's trial date into February 2000, but admonished both sides about his disappearing patience.

"I want this case tried," he said wearily. "I want it resolved and I want it tried right the first time."

Demonstrating their formidable investigatory powers, the prosecution threw another curve into the case in July when, in court documents, Gibson announced that TBI agents had found the Audi that Looper allegedly drove when he assassinated Burks. The revelation was a twist in the case, because while Joe Bond had testified that Looper did not use his regular car to commit the killing, prosecutors had impounded Looper's Beretta and reportedly found evidence that a gun had been fired from inside the vehicle.

The four-door black Audi had been purchased by Looper from a woman in Gwinnett, Georgia for $1,200 two days before the murder, said the man who drove Looper to buy the car.

Loopers purchase of the Audi corresponded with an invoice for tires.  After the shooting, Gibson alleged, Looper left the car at a repair shop, and then advised the shop to sell the car and keep the proceeds. It was confiscated from the subsequent owner and turned over to the TBI.

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