State offers look at Parker transcripts

by Kaitlin Bell | 5/20/02 5:00am

Transcripts of prosecutors' interviews with James Parker released Friday offered disturbing insight into the events and motives leading up to the brutal murders of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop in January 2001.

In the haunting 167-page report -- which consists of over fifteen hours of Parker's transcribed testimony -- Parker casually described the grisly details of the murders, the social isolation he and Robert Tulloch imposed on themselves, the teenagers peculiar moral philosophy and sense of intellectual superiority.

While the specific motive behind the murders was stealing the Zantops' ATM cards to fund an escape to Australia, Parker's comments indicated that he and Tulloch held a deep-seated dissatisfaction with their lives in their hometown of Chelsea, Vt. -- a dissatisfaction that contrasted sharply with their grand ambitions.

"We're both very adventurous," he said. "We kind of saw life differently than everybody else and we wanted more out of life than, you know, going to college and blah blah blah."

Parker, now 17, described how he and Tulloch dreamed of living a "primitive existence" on a remote island and of searching Egyptian myths for the secret to immortality.

"We just kind of wanted to be on our own," he said.

In Australia, they hoped to pursue "a life of crime," possibly training themselves to be assassins.

The murders were the culmination of two years of intricate pranks and petty crimes through which the two teenagers distanced themselves from their peers and added excitement to everyday life in Chelsea.

"Ever since we became best friends we were doing all this adventurous stuff and we considered ourselves better than everybody else," Parker said. "We thought basically that we were smarter than everybody else ... people didn't see things the way that we did."

In intense philosophical conversations, the teens discussed the morality of killing and pondered the possibility of the world being like a giant computer game world with "cheat codes" that provided shortcuts to success.

They considered stealing cars, robbing banks and hijacking boats, but finally decided on a localized crime scheme that would involve stealing ATM cards and murdering any witnesses, even children.

But Parker said his moral code sometimes diverged from that of Tulloch. He disapproved of Tulloch hitting his dog "just because it was a stupid dog," and went along with Tulloch's murder schemes only because he "was doing it for money."

"I thought maybe we do need to get used to this, but we're not going to practice on animals or anything like that," he said, noting that Tulloch's single-minded focus on the Australia plot sometimes became oppressive.

Yet Parker's own reaction to the murder was cool. He said the scheme had failed because the boys only collected $340 from Half Zantop's wallet, and that, even after stabbing Suzanne, he felt "nothing emotional."

"I think it turned into instincts, so I guess you could call it business, but that's kind of a bad word, but just like, you know, it's time to do this," he said.

The calm tone apparent in this testimony contrasts markedly with Parker's behavior at his sentencing hearing several months later, where he apologized to the Zantops' family in a quavering voice, tears streaming down his face.

But Parker acknowledged even during his statement to prosecutors that he and Tulloch had held unrealistic hopes about their prospects for escape.

"We were very nave about everything," he said, "About like the legal system and we didn't talk about getting caught at all. We just didn't think we were gonna get caught because we thought we could figure out a way not to get caught."

Last November, prosecutors allowed Parker to plead guilty to a reduced charge of accomplice to second-degree murder in the death of Susanne Zantop in exchange for his testimony.

Tulloch, now 19, last month dropped his insanity defense and pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. The teenagers were both sentenced on April 4, Tulloch to life in prison without parole and Parker to a term of 25 years to life.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.