In this 1998 file photo, Byron Looper talks to his attorney Lionel Barrett in court during Looper's murder trial in Crossvile. (AP file photo/Larry McCormack)
NASHVILLE — Byron Looper, a Tennessee inmate serving a life sentence for the murder of state Sen. Tommy Burks, was found dead in his cell in the Morgan County Correctional Complex on Wednesday, state officials said.
A statement from the Tennessee Department of Correction said the 48-year-old Looper was found dead at about 11:10 a.m. EDT Wednesday. The commissioner has asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate the cause of his death.
"That is routine particularly when there is not an obvious sign of death," said Dorinda Carter, a spokeswoman for the correction department.
Looper, a former Putnam County property assessor, was convicted of murder in the Oct. 19, 1998, fatal shooting of Burks while he sat in his pickup truck near his Cumberland County farm. Looper, who legally changed his middle name to "Low Tax," was running as a Republican against Burks for the state senate seat and he continued campaigning from a jail cell after being charged with the killing.
Charlotte Burks, who is still a senator from the Cumberland Plateau district, won a write-in campaign to replace her husband. She never campaigned publicly but dozens of volunteers came to her aid, working to educate voters about Mrs. Burks and how to write in her name.
In the end, 30,906 people voted for her — 95 percent of all the ballots cast — and Mrs. Burks became the first write-in candidate to win election to the Senate.
Kristin Helm, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said a crime scene team was on its way to the prison to collect evidence. His body will be taken for an autopsy.
Carter said a nurse first noticed that he was unresponsive in his cell. She said that she did not have any details about any medical issues he may have had and the events leading up to his death are under investigation.