by Rachel Osterman, Ithan Peltan and Karla Kingsley | 4/4/02 5:00am

NORTH HAVERHILL, N.H. -- Robert Tulloch pleaded guilty this morning to two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of Half and Susanne Zantop, bringing closure for a Dartmouth community shocked over a year ago by the brutal slayings of two beloved professors.

In the same courtroom where Tulloch sat stonefaced as he dropped his plea of innocent by reason of insanity, a remorseful James Parker received a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. He pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit second-degree murder in the death of Susanne Zantop.

At the change-of-plea hearing, Tulloch, 18, was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of life in prison without parole, the mandatory penalty in first-degree murder cases.

Parker -- tears streaming down his face -- claimed that he was "sorry." "There's not much more I can say than that," the 17-year-old said just before Judge Peter Smith sentenced him to 25 years to life in prison.

Tulloch affirmed that his plea on the three charges was given because he was in fact guilty. When asked by the court whether his client's plea was voluntary, Tulloch's lawyer Richard Guerriero said, "I have to tell the court ... that Robert's decision to plead guilty is against our advice. However, we believe that his decision is rational.

Back on campus, students, faculty and administrators were attempting to close a painful chapter in their lives.

Former Dean of the Faculty Ed Berger was relieved that today's hearings took the place of what promised to be an agonizing trial.

"The good thing is we don't have to go through the circus and bring up all the old miseries that were associated with the crime. On the other hand, we will never see what was going on in those kids' minds."

Dean of the College James Larimore, however, felt that the campus still has a long way to go in the healing process.

"I honestly don't think there is any way to make this easier," Larimore said. "Now that [perpetrators] have been identified and found, we can focus our energy on helping and caring for each other."

In Haverhill this morning, lead prosecutor Kelly Ayotte delivered a detailed account of the murders and the state's evidence, saying that Tulloch and accomplice James Parker formulated their plan after they became "bored" with their life in Chelsea, Vt.

The daughters of the murdered professors, Veronika and Marianne Zantop, were both present in the courtroom. They listened tearfully as Ayotte read her account of the case.

Given the chance to speak, both daughters stood as Veronika Zantop addressed the court. Both repeatedly made eye contact with Tulloch, who showed no emotion. Parker, however, wept as he listened to the same statement just four hours later.

"There's no statement in the entire world that can capture the absolute horror, disbelief, sadness and anger that I my sister, my family and friends" are experiencing, Veronika Zantop said in the first public remark made by one of the sisters since their parents death.

"I try to console myself by perpetuating the essence of my parents," she continued, her voice wavering.

Irene Kacandes, a Dartmouth professor of German who was a close friend of the murdered couple, also addressed the court.

"It's about two beautiful people" and their friends and family "who think about them and miss them and cry about them every single day and will continue to do so every single day," Kacandes said, staring directly at Tulloch. "You had a chance January 27, 2001, and Half and Susanne did not, and now we don't either."

DeRoss Kellogg, Tulloch's teacher in 5th and 6th grades who has remained in contact with the teen since his arrest, said Tulloch contacted him Tuesday night because "he wanted it known it was untrue that he had no remorse."

Kellogg said that Tulloch is "not angry at Jim" and still considers Parker to be his friend.

Tulloch and Parker stabbed the Zantops to death in their Etna, N.H., home on Jan. 27, 2001 after posing as students conducting an environmental survey.

According to prosecutors, the Zantops' Etna, N.H., home was the fifth to be visited by the teens in the six months leading up to the murders. The pair planned to steal ATM cards and PIN numbers, kill witnesses and then use the money to flee to Australia.

Both Tulloch's and Parker's parents were present in the courtroom for their respective hearings.

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