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Archives 09-26-2007

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Johnson convicted, sentenced to life
Air planes take flight

New ban could leave smokers fuming
Two killed in pickup crash Friday

Johnson convicted, sentenced to life

By ROBERT FORSMAN

A man charged with murdering his daughter and her husband was convicted of 2 counts of premeditated first degree murder by a jury last week in Overton County Criminal Court, Judge Leon Burns presiding.

Harold Johnson Jr., 65, was arrested April 3, 2005. Johnson was charged with 2 counts of premeditated first degree murder, 2 counts of felony murder, 2 counts of especially aggravated robbery, and 2 counts of abuse of a corpse.

The bodies of Sandra Johnson Looper, 42, and her husband L.J. Looper, 71, were found in a brush pile on the property of Johnson’s 1036 Copeland Cove Lane residence.

The prosecution, headed by Assistant District Attorney John Moore, assisted by District Attorney Tony Craighead, said ownership of a 1987 Toyota 4x4 was the primary motive for the murders.

After the Loopers disappearance, the Toyota was seen in Baxter at the residence of a woman, described as Johnson’s girlfriend.

A witness testified that several weeks before the murders Johnson was pressing his daughter, Mrs. Sandra Johnson Looper, to sell the vehicle, which was registered in her husband’s name.

Mrs. Looper said the only way Johnson would get the Toyota was over her dead body, according to testimony.

“That can be arranged,” Johnson reportedly replied.

The witness testified the last time she spoke with Mrs. Looper was the evening of Thursday, March 31, 2005. The Loopers’ bodies were found the following Sunday.

The witness reported the Loopers missing Friday. When law enforcement checked the Looper’s Putnam County home, their medication, clothes and suitcases were there. A missing persons report was issued.

Johnson told authorities his daughter and her husband were on vacation and didn’t want anyone except him to know.

Johnson said the Loopers were going to Gatlinburg then to Alabama, Mississippi and possibly Texas. Johnson assured authorities the missing persons bulletin was unnecessary.

While on patrol early Sunday morning, Overton County Sheriff deputies Jacob Boswell and Lee Swallows saw Mrs. Looper’s Dodge Stratus parked beside Johnson’s house on Copeland Cove Lane.

Windows of the Dodge were broken out. Boswell testified he saw what appeared to be blood and tissue inside the vehicle.

The deputies found shotgun shells around the yard, then discovered the bodies, according to testimony.

Inside the house, authorities found items belonging to the Loopers, including a purse, wallets, Mr. and Mrs. Loopers’ driver licenses, and the couple’s cell phones. Authorities also discovered shotgun shells and a disassembled shotgun.

When interrogated about the shotgun by TBI agent Steve Huntley, primary investigator of the case, Johnson said the shotgun was a piece of junk he had traded an automatic shotgun for. Johnson told Huntley the shotgun was in pieces and he had never shot it because he was afraid to.

A ballistics expert testified the striking on the spent shells was consistent with those fired from the gun. The expert testified the wadding also matched. The expert said the shells inside the house were the same as those outside.

Authorities removed the victims’ bodies from the trash pile at daybreak, according to testimony. Sheriff Bud Swallows tentatively identified them as those of Sandra Johnson Looper and L.J. Looper.

The bodies were transported to Nashville for autopsy.

According to testimony, Mrs. Looper was shot 5 times, in the head, in the shoulder, in the body. Mr. Looper was shot twice, once in the back, once in the back of the head at close range.

DA Craighead described the murder scene to the jury. Mrs. Looper was shot first, he said. Then Mr. Looper was shot in the back while fleeing. Mr. Looper collapsed to his knees. Then the shooter walked up to Mr. Looper, DA Craighead said, holding an imaginary shotgun aimed down, pointed the barrel at the back of Mr. Looper’s head, pulled the trigger.

The prosecution asserted that a tractor at the scene was used to move the bodies.

Agent Huntley testified that what appeared to be blood and tissue were found on the tractor’s scoop.

Photographs of muddy tracks leading to and from the tractor and the brush pile were entered into evidence.

The tractor doors were locked. During interrogation, Johnson told agent Huntley he had the key. But, he said, a key to any Massey Ferguson would unlock and start any other Massey Ferguson.

At the time of his arrest, Johnson was asked what he had used the tractor for. He said he had moved several stumps to a brush pile and was going to burn them when weather permitted.

The state contended Johnson was going to get rid of the bodies. But rain prevented him from doing that.

It rained Friday and Saturday before the bodies were found, according to testimony. Photographs of water standing in the tractor tracks were used to substantiate the testimony.

Acting on a BOLO (be on the lookout), Putnam County law enforcement stopped Johnson and a codefendant Sunday afternoon. The pair were in an older model Oldsmobile seen earlier in Baxter at the residence where the Toyota was parked.

The two were placed in a patrol car. An audio recording device in the vehicle was on.

A recording of the two was played for the jury.

“If one of us gets out,” Johnson said, “don’t say a word. Keep your mouth shut. Just stay right real quiet.”

Referring to bloody pants in the trunk, Johnson said, “Are you goin’ to claim them?”

Johnson also said if they had returned the previous night they could have moved the bodies.

A witness testified she overheard Johnson tell Mrs. Looper he could kill her and get away with it.

When asked by Johnson’s court appointed attorney, John Meadows, if she thought Johnson was serious, the witness replied, “No.”

A former inmate testified Johnson told him he got angry over a car deal, killed his daughter and placed the body in a brush pile.

When asked by the defense if Johnson said anything about killing Mr. Looper, the witness replied, “No.”

An Overton County Jail guard testified that during a confrontation with another inmate, Johnson said, “If you don’t shut up, I’ll chop you up just like my daughter.”

A former inmate who occupied a cell next to Johnson testified Johnson said he shot his daughter and her boyfriend and made the codefendant remove the bodies.

“Your testimony is bought and paid for,” attorney Meadows said. “Isn’t it?”

“Bought and paid for?” the witness replied.

A witness who lives at the residence where the Toyota was seen, testified that Johnson showed her the title.

ADA Moore asked if the title was signed to transfer ownership.

The witness replied, “No, sir. There was not a signature on it in any way.”

Attorney Meadows showed a signed statement in which the witness said a signature was on the title.

The witness said she was nervous when she signed the statement and must have overlooked that part.

The title, with no signature, was introduced into evidence.

During questioning following his arrest, when asked about the Toyota 4x4, Johnson said, “It’s the sorriest thing I drove in my life.” Johnson said it was in such bad shape he only paid $300 for it.

According to evidence and testimony, the vehicle was in good condition and L.J. Looper said he would never sell it.

Agent Huntley asked Johnson where he got the $300. Johnson said he borrowed it from his bank, naming the bank and the branch.

A bank employee testified Johnson didn’t borrow the money. She said the only transactions in Johnson’s name during the six months before the murders were SSI checks deposited once a month automatically and a check written each month for that amount.

The defense introduced three witnesses.

A resident on Copeland Cove Lane testified he didn’t hear shots on Saturday before the Loopers’ bodies were found.

An inmate testified he didn’t hear Johnson say he killed his daughter.

A witness testified he went to Johnson’s house on Saturday looking for Mr. and Mrs. Looper and found no indication they were there.

Johnson didn’t testify.

The trial began Tuesday, Sept. 18 and ended Saturday, Sept. 22 at noon.

More than 150 items were introduced into evidence.

In his closing statement, attorney Meadows compared the trial to playing poker against an opponent who stacked the deck.

Attorney Meadows said no blood was found on Johnson’s clothes, Johnson’s prints weren’t found on the shotgun or the shells.

Referring to the more than $2,000 found on Johnson when arrested, attorney Meadows said no blood was on the money.

During summation, DA Craighead asked the jury to consider where a man who receives $300 a month in SSI got $2,000.

ADA Moore said, “There was a horrible, willful, gross desecration of bodies in an attempt to conceal this crime.”

The 5-woman 7-man jury deliberated approximately 90 minutes before returning a guilty verdict on all counts.

Judge Burns said the felony murder convictions would merge into the greater convictions of premeditated first degree murder, which carries a minimum sentence of life in prison.

ADA Moore withdrew a motion requesting life without parole, citing a life sentence requires a minimum of 51 years imprisonment.

Johnson was sentenced to life in prison. Judge Burns tentatively scheduled November 21 for a sentencing hearing on Johnson’s convictions of especially aggravated robbery and abuse of a corpse.

Johnson was returned to jail at Overton County Justice Center, where he has been incarcerated since his arrest.

The codefendant in the case is out on bond, awaiting trial.

 



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Air planes take flight



Valerie Brown/OCN Staff
Upper Cumberland Regional Airport, in Sparta, hosted the 2007 Upper Cumberland Air Show on Saturday, Sept 22.

A huge crowd attended the event which featured shows by The Red Stars (above), wing walker Ashley Battles (at right), Swift Magic Team, Greg Koontz Flying Farmer, Greg Shelton PT-17 Stearman Aerobatics, Army Black Daggers, and many more. The show wrapped up with an USAF B2-A Spirit Stealth Bomber making three passes over the airport.

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New ban could leave smokers fuming

By Beth Underwood,
OCN Staff

Change is in the air effective Monday, Oct. 1, when new legislation will require smokers to take a draw outside.

The legislation, known as “Non-Smoker Protection Act”, was signed into law in June. It bans smoking in all public workspaces, restaurants, and other enclosed public venues throughout the state of Tennessee with less than a dozen exceptions.

While the new law may come as no surprise, the penalties for violations may not be as common, and extend beyond business to the private citizen.
For example, individuals who knowingly smoke in an area where smoking is prohibited do so at the risk of a $50 civil penalty. Businesses who knowingly fail to follow the rules will not be fined on the first offense within a 12-month period, but will instead be handed a written warning. A civil penalty of $100 will follow a second offense within that same time period, while any violation after will be subject to a $500 fine.

Among the exceptions are private homes and vehicles (unless used for child/day care), non-enclosed public spaces such as open air patios, or spaces with garage type doors (if the doors are open) and tents and awnings, provided any removable sides are removed or open.

A few other exceptions exist, as well, including a clause for the availability of smoking rooms in lodging, provided no more than 25 percent of the rooms are designated for smoking, tobacco shops prohibiting minors, and tobacco manufacturers, importers, and wholesalers.

Moreover, business owners will be responsible for clearly outlining the mandates of the new legislation in their places of business as well, and will be required to post “No Smoking” signs at every public entrance, as well as at every location within the business where smoking is prohibited. All employees, whether existing or potential, must also be notified that smoking is prohibited and everyone in that place of employment is charged with informing anyone smoking that they are in violation of the new law.

The law also states that smoke from areas exempt from the law “must not infiltrate into areas where smoking is prohibited.”

The smoking ban will be enforced by the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. To view a summary of the new law, visit

www.tennesseeanytime.org/govoffice/smokingban.html.

 

Two killed in pickup crash Friday

Two men died in a single-vehicle crash in the Baptist Ridge area Friday morning, Sept. 21.

According to reports, Alan Wayne Pennington, 43, of Celina, was driving a 1985 Ford F-150 pickup east on Highway 292 when the truck failed to negotiate a curve and ran off the right side of the road and struck a tree.

Pennington died from injuries sustained in the wreck.

Thomas J. Chambers, 25, of Hilham, was a passenger in the truck and also died.

According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol report, Pennington was not wearing a seatbelt, and Chambers was wearing a seatbelt.

The incident was investigated by Trooper Marty Philpot, Trooper Toby Beaty, and Sgt. Mike Hamilton.


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