Prosecutors offer new motive in Zantop case

by Ithan Peltan | 12/29/01 6:00am

Robbery motivated last January's brutal murders of two Dartmouth professors, prosecutors alleged last week. According to new indictments brought by a grand jury against Robert Tulloch, he and alleged accomplice James Parker were intent on robbing Half and Susanne Zantop when they entered the couple's Etna home.

The indictments against Tulloch mark the first motive formally offered by prosecutors in the Jan. 27 stabbing deaths that rocked the Dartmouth community.

Lawyers for both Tulloch and the state have filed motions requesting hearings in the last week. Prosecutors are seeking all documents related to Tulloch's mental condition developed as part of his insanity defense, while attorneys for Tulloch challenged the admissibility of the state's forensic evidence.

State Attorney General Philip McLaughlin hopes to have the trial jury consider both the original indictments against Tulloch -- which allege his "conscious object" was to murder the Zantops -- and the alternative indictments alleging that the Tulloch intended to rob the couple and killed them in the process.

Conviction on either the new or the old first-degree murder charges carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole, although the new charges may make prosecutors' jobs easier.

"A person can have premeditation in a split second, but a jury usually likes to hear that the defendant had the murders thought out over a period of time, which may be hard to prove," John Kacavas, a former New Hampshire chief homicide prosecutor, told the Boston Globe. "These [new] indictments get around that problem."

It remains unclear why Tulloch and Parker brought knives if they set out to rob the couple, or why the teens targeted the Zantops. Authorities have said they know of no connection between Tulloch and Parker and the popular professors the allegedly murdered.

Parker pleaded guilty to being an accomplice to second-degree murder in death of Susanne Zantop on Dec. 7 after losing his battle to be tried as a juvenile. In exchange for his testimony at Tulloch's trial, Parker will be sentenced to between 25 years to life in prison.

Tulloch informed prosecutors of his intention to use an insanity defense late last month and his lawyer, Richard Guerriero, told the Associated Press that the new indictments will not alter their trial strategy.

"It doesn't change the facts of the case. We're going to proceed to court on the facts we've stated," he said.

In a motion filed Monday, Tulloch's lawyers asked a judge to determine the admissibility of the state's forensic evidence. Attorney Barbara Keshen requested a hearing to decide whether prosecutors may present the opinions of police experts regarding "fingerprint identification, tool mark impressions and foot wear impressions" found at the home.

"The state should be precluded from introducing any opinion testimony unless the state proves its reliability," Keshen wrote.

Prosecutors filed their motion requesting all materials relating to Tulloch's medical condition on Thursday. The state also requested the defense provide statements from all witnesses it plans to call at trial.

Defense attorneys also filed further motions Thursday, possibly requesting time for further medical requests on their client. The motions were filed under seal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.