Killer’s lawyer to seek reduced jail sentence
By LYNNE TUOHY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | August 22,2012
AP FILE PHOTO
Robert Tullochleaves the Grafton County Superior Court in Haverhill, N.H., after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in 2002.
CONCORD, N.H. — A man convicted in the stabbing deaths of two Dartmouth College professors when he was 17 wants to investigate whether his sentences of life without parole might be reduced in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Public defender Richard Guerriero is asking the court to appoint him to again represent Robert Tulloch — one of two Vermont teens convicted of killing Half and Suzanne Zantop in 2001.
Guerriero says Tulloch contacted him for advice on whether he might be entitled to relief under the Supreme Court’s ruling that mandatory sentences of life without parole for those under 18 when the crime is committed are unconstitutional. The court, in a 5-4 ruling in June in the case of Miller v. Alabama, said judges should have discretion to consider whether a juvenile’s lessened culpability and greater capacity for change might not warrant a lesser sentence.
Guerriero, whose appointment as Tulloch’s attorney expired when Tulloch pleaded guilty in 2002, sent a letter to the Grafton Superior Court clerk last week asking that he be reappointed.
“I believe that Mr. Tulloch may be entitled to some relief under the Miller decision, since he was under the age of 18 at the time of the murders and he was sentenced to life without parole,” Guerriero wrote.
He said Tuesday that he has not heard back from the court and that no hearings are scheduled.
Tulloch and James Parker — both from Chelsea, Vt. — pleaded guilty to stabbing the Zantops to death on Jan. 27, 2001, after gaining entry to the Atna village home by posing as students conducting a survey. Suzanne Zantop made lunch while the pair talked with Half Zantop. When Half Zantop turned to retrieve a phone number, Tulloch stabbed him with a military assault knife they had purchased online. When Suzanne came to her husband’s assistance, Parker told prosecutors, he slit her throat at Tulloch’s orders.
Parker, who was 16 at the time of the killings and agreed to testify against Tulloch, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Senior Assistant Attorney Jeffery Strelzin said Tuesday he would not comment on Guerriero’s request or Tulloch’s prospects for relief because he had yet to reach the Zantops’ daughters — Veronika and Mariana — to inform them.
Another high-profile convicted killer may seek to have his mandatory life sentence reduced under the same Supreme Court ruling. Steven Spader of Brookline was convicted in the 2009 Mont Vernon home invasion and machete killing of 42-year-old Kimberly Cates and the maiming of her 10-year-old daughter, which occurred a month before he turned 18.
Spader’s conviction is on appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court; Tulloch’s case was disposed of with his guilty pleas and mandatory life sentences in 2002. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling does not address whether the decision applies retroactively or only to cases that have not reached final disposition — such as Spader’s.
Tulloch, now 29, is incarcerated at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin.