Zantop killer's motion awaits court response

by Clifton Lyons | 9/16/12 10:00pm

A recent motion filed with the Grafton Superior Court by public defender Richard Guerriero requesting a hearing on Robert Tulloch's sentence of life imprisonment without parole is still pending, and no hearing has been scheduled at this time. A recent Supreme Court ruling about the use of life prison terms for juveniles provides ground for reevaluating Tulloch's sentence, delivered after Tulloch pled guilty to the murder of married Dartmouth professors Half and Suzanne Zantop in 2001, according to Guerriero.

On Jan. 27, 2001, Robert Tulloch, 17, and James Parker, 16, of Chelsea, Vt. gained entry into the Zantops' residence in Etna by posing as students conducting a survey. Once inside, Tulloch stabbed Half Zantop with a military assault knife and Parker slit Suzanne Zantop's throat at Tulloch's order.

Parker was sentenced on April 4, 2002 to 25 years in prison with the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to second-degree murder as an accomplice to Tulloch and testifying against him in court. Tulloch pled guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and received a sentence of life in prison without parole.

On June 25, 2012, a Supreme Court ruling effectively limited the use of life terms in prison for murderers under 18. In a 5-4 decision in the case of Miller v. Alabama, the Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment forbids sentencing that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders.

Tulloch and Guerriero, his public defender during the trial, discussed whether Tulloch is entitled to relief under the Miller decision, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin. Tulloch's chances of obtaining a shorter sentence depend on whether the Supreme Court's decision can be applied retroactively to his case.

Last month, Guerriero submitted a request to the Grafton Superior Court clerk to be reappointed as Tulloch's attorney.

"At this point it is unclear whether Tulloch's sentencing will be reevaluated," Strelzin said.

If Guerriero's request for a hearing is granted, Tulloch will still remain in custody for a number of years and may not be granted a change in sentence, the Valley News reported. A hearing would bring Tulloch in front of the Grafton Superior Court for the first time in over 10 years.

"It's very likely that a judge, upon re-sentencing Tulloch, will give him, if not life without parole, a traditional sentence for that crime 40 to 50 years to life," University of New Hampshire Law School professor Albert Scherr told the Valley News. "The end result is, even if Tulloch gets what he is looking for, it's not going to mean that he is going to get out of jail any time soon."

Religion professor Susannah Heschel, who was a good friend and neighbor of the Zantops, said it took her many years to overcome a sense of terror and grief about the murders.

While opposed to the death penalty and to life imprisonment for juveniles, Heschel said she is so "deeply emotionally" affected by the murder of her close friends that she cannot judge the murderers objectively.

"My emotions tell me that Tulloch should suffer for the duration of his life, too," Heschel said. "For me, the question is not only of punishment, but also whether our society can ever be safe with a Tulloch on the loose. This crime was so heinous that I find it hard to believe he would never again commit a crime if he were freed from jail."

Edward Berger, dean of the faculty at the time of the Zantops' murder, was also a good friend of the family, and recalled the relief of community members when the case was finally solved.

"In my opinion Tulloch is a psychopath and not simply a sociopath," said Berger. "He deserves life without parole and my guess is that the Supreme Court ruling will not be permitted to be retroactive in his case."

The Zantop murders were the last in a series of crimes that the pair committed while attempting to raise $10,000 to move to Australia, where they hoped life would be less "boring." Tulloch and Parker schemed to steal credit cards and PIN numbers, killing their victims to avoid detection.

Before entering the Zantop home, Parker and Tulloch attempted to burglarize four homes, including one home each in Vershire, Vt., and Rochester, N.Y., and two homes in the Hanover area.

Tulloch, now 29 years old, is incarcerated at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility.