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5 killers line up to contest sentences

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 16. 2013 10:45PM

MANCHESTER - A new sentencing hearing will be held this spring for Steven Spader, the convicted teen killer and accused ringleader of a 2009 Mont Vernon home invasion.

Spader, 21, is one of five convicted killers who were 17 years old when they committed their crimes and are seeking resentencing hearings under the U.S. Supreme Court's Miller v. Alabama ruling.

The others are Robert Tulloch, 29, who pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the 2001 slayings of married Dartmouth College professors Half and Susanne Zantop; Robert Dingman, who was convicted with his younger brother of the 1996 murders of their parents in their Rochester home; Eduardo Lopez Jr., who was convicted of fatally shooting Robert Goyette during a 1991 Nashua robbery; and Michael Soto, who was convicted of accomplice to first-degree murder in the 2007 shooting of Aaron Kar in Manchester.

All are serving mandatory life prison terms without chance of parole.

The U.S. Supreme Court's Miller v. Alabama ruling declared unconstitutional all state sentencing schemes that required life prison terms without chance of parole for juvenile murderers.

In its June 25 decision, the court found such mandatory life sentencing schemes violated the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

A judge still could impose a life prison term without parole for a juvenile murderer - it just cannot be an automatic penalty.

Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian L. Abramson set April 22 for Spader's resentencing hearing after meeting about 40 minutes in chambers Wednesday with defense attorneys and the lead state prosecutor.

Sentencing will follow April 26.

The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office considers Spader's case to be the one to which Miller v. Alabama applies since it has not yet gone before the state Supreme Court on direct appeal.

Spader's appeal was stayed in September as a result of Miller v. Alabama and his case remanded to the trial court for resentencing.

"We agree it is retroactive to Spader because his case was on appeal when (Miller v. Alabama) decision came down," Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery A. Strelzin said.

"We don't believe the decision is retroactive to the other four defendants" because their convictions either had been upheld on appeal to the state Supreme Court or they pleaded guilty and gave up their right to appeal.

A jury found Spader guilty of first-degree murder and other felonies for the hacking death of registered nurse Kimberly L. Cates, 42, and maiming her then 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie, inside their Mont Vernon home.

In addition to serving life in prison without parole, Spader is serving 76 years to life on the other charges.

A resentencing hearing would allow the defense and state to argue for whatever sentence they want and present mitigating and aggravating factors to support their positions.

Spader's defense attorneys Jonathan Cohen and Andrew S. Winters of the Concord law firm Cohen & Winters, anticipate "between three to five witnesses" will be called.

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