Tulloch seeks two trials

by Victoria McGrane and Ithan Peltan | 3/26/02 6:00am

Lawyers for Robert Tulloch argued in a court filing yesterday that accusations that he and alleged accomplice James Parker planned the killings of Half and Susanne Zantop months in advance should not be heard at the teen's murder trial.

Tulloch pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit murder -- the fifth charge brought against the Vermont teen accused of killing the two Dartmouth professors -- at an arraignment hearing at Grafton County Superior Court on March 6.

In a motion to consolidate the conspiracy charge with the four existing first-degree murder charges, state prosecutors have alleged that the Zantop murders were only part of "an overall scheme by the defendant and James Parker to raise $10,000 illegally, to eliminate witnesses and to travel to Australia."

Public defender Richard Guerriero said in the written objection to the state's request that consolidation would harm his client.

"The defense was prepared for trial with an expectation of charges relating the events of one day, January 27, 2001," he wrote. "To now require the defense to restructure its defense and alter its plan would be unfairly prejudicial."

According to the prosecution motion released shortly before the hearing, beginning in July 2000, Tulloch and Parker conspired to enter several private homes with the intent of using violence to obtain ATM cards and PINs.

The Zantop home was allegedly the fifth to be visited by the pair.

The Grafton County grand jury handed down the conspiracy charge, which carries a prison sentence of 15 to 30 years, in February. The new charges are based on information provided by Parker, who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for his testimony.

While prosecutors had a sense of the information Parker would provide when they made the plea deal, the level of detail provided since "is certainly not what we had last year," Ayotte said following the arraignment.

Guerriero said in his court filing yesterday that his client has been allowed insufficient time to respond to the new allegations, arguing that 10 months it took prosecutors to negotiate the plea bargain shouldn't be used against Tulloch.

As for how the conspiracy charge will affect Tulloch's insanity defense, lead prosecutor Kelly Ayotte said after the arraignment that it was an issue for the jury to decide, adding that the prosecution will be prepared to address it at trial.

In other developments related to the trial, presiding Judge Peter W. Smith on March 8 rejected a petition by seven news organization to allow cameras into the courtroom during Tulloch's trial, set to begin April 22.

Smith wrote in his 21-page ruling that the claim that federal and state constitutions provide a "presumptive right" for electronic equipment in the courtroom is baseless.

The presence of cameras could also affect Tulloch's right to a fair trial, Smith wrote. The petition was filed on behalf of the Boston Globe, Court TV, the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Associations of Broadcasters, WBZ-TV, WBZ-AM radio and WMUR-TV.

"As a consequence of the court's order, only those very few citizens who are able to squeeze into the Grafton County courtroom will be able to exercise their constitutional right to observe the upcoming trial," the law firm representing the news organizations said in a statement.

Lawyers for the news organizations plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Under New Hampshire law, however, judges have broad discretion over the decision to allow cameras in the courtroom. Smith has banned cameras from his courtroom since 1995.

Although the proceedings at Tulloch's arraignment on the conspiracy charge took less than five minutes, the courtroom was almost completely filled. The press made up most of the onlookers, but a handful were members of the public.

Tulloch did not speak during the hearing, allowing his lawyer to enter his plea. However, he did smile and wave to one female member of the courtroom audience before the hearing began.

"He was a wonderful young man," she said of Tulloch after the hearing. The woman declined to give her name, identifying herself only as "a good friend" of the defendant.

The Manchester Union Leader later identified the woman as Sandra Knapp, a resident of Warren, N.H. who works as the superintendent of an state-run nursing home.

"Ms. Knapp's attendance at court was on her personal time. Her presence and statements were not made as a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services," the department said in a statement.

Tulloch's mother, who has attended other of her son's legal proceedings, was not present at the arraignment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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