Parker pleads guilty in murder of Susanne Zantop
HAVERHILL, N.H. -- James Parker pleaded guilty as an accomplice to second-degree murder of Susanne Zantop as expected today during a brief hearing in Grafton County Superior Court, but motive remains a mystery.
Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop were stabbed to death in their Etna home last January and Parker was initially charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Judge Peter Smith began the hearing by questioning Parker to ensure that the 17-year-old understood the plea bargain and was "knowingly, intelligently, voluntarily" changing his plea to guilty of being an accomplice to second-degree murder.
When Smith asked Parker if he entered the plea because he was indeed guilty, Parker answered, "Yes, sir."
In return for Parker's full and truthful account of the murder and events leading up to it, Senior Assistant Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said that prosecutors will recommend a prison sentence of 25 years to life for Parker.
The prosecution made the plea bargain after considering three factors, Ayotte said. First, "25 years is a significant sentence, which takes into account Parker's age and willingness to take responsibility." The sentence will not be determined until after alleged accomplice Robert Tulloch's trial, which is set to begin in April.
An objective analysis of "trial risk" and the knowledge that Parker's information will aid in the prosecution of Tulloch convinced the state to make a deal.
Parker "will assist the state in the prosecution of State v. Robert Tulloch," Ayotte said.
Although Parker pleads guilty in the murder of Susanne Zantop's, Ayotte said that he has also "taken responsibility for his actions" in the murder of Half Zantop.
Ayotte provided a synopsis of evidence against Parker that would have been used had the case gone to trial, with the caveat: "At this time, the state knows of absolutely no connection" between the Zantops and the suspects prior to the killings.
Fingerprints on a knife sheath left in the Zantops' study and a footprint left by Parker's hiking boot link him to the crime scene.
Investigators discovered that in early January Parker had purchased two SOG SEAL 2000 knives over the Internet, and knives of that same model were later found hidden in Tulloch's bedroom. Blood on the weapons matched the DNA of Susanne and Half Zantop.
A blood stain containing Susanne Zantop's DNA was also found on the floor of a green Subaru that belonged to Parker's mother.
Ayotte said that the Zantops' daughters support the plea bargain.
Tulloch faces two charges of first-degree murder, against which he will use an insanity defense.
Parker's father, who was present at the hearing, made a brief statement apologizing for his son's actions: "This tragedy has affected many people and communities. We are very sad and very sorry."