As prosecutors mull over their next move in a ruling that could affect the life sentences of teenage murderers, a neighbor of a murdered couple in the town of Hanover said she doesn't want the mastermind of the 2001 Zantop murders walking the streets.
Dartmouth College professors Half and Susanne Zantop were stabbed to death by two Vermont teenagers planning to rob them in their Etna home. Robert Tulloch, who was 17 at the time, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
But in a ruling issued Monday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler said Tulloch and three other teen murderers deserve another sentencing hearing, where their ages can be taken into consideration.
"I'd be very uncomfortable with the thought of him running around," said Audrey McCollum, 89, a neighbor of the Zantops. "The impression we all had at the time was he did have the quality of a psychopath."
"He was an evil, selfish jackass. I would say that's probably still valid," said acting Hanover Police Chief Frank Moran, who worked the case as a detective.
The new hearings don't necessarily mean the sentence will change for Tulloch, as well as three other convicted murderers — Robert Dingman, Eduardo Lopez Jr., and Michael Soto. All were 17 at the time they committed the murders.
Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Smukler said defense attorneys for the four will be able to introduce mitigating factors related to their age at the time of the crimes. Such factors include immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.
Homicide prosecutor Jeffery Strelzin said the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office is studying the most recent decision and whether it can be challenged.
Strelzin said an important issue is whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Miller case is retroactive, meaning whether it applies to previous, settled cases. Some courts have said it does, others have said it doesn't.
"Probably the (U.S.) Supreme Court will have to weigh in," Strelzin said.
Moran said the Zantop murder was grisly and the only satisfaction was the apprehension of Tulloch and James Parker, 16. Parker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, testified against Tulloch and is eligible for parole in 2026.
The Zantops had two daughters, but they do not live in the area and maintain little contact with Hanover, said McCollum and Moran. But they will be notified about a sentencing hearing and be given an opportunity to make statements.
Moran said he didn't have strong feelings about another sentencing hearing.
"Those are the rules of the game, and that's what we have to deal with," he said.
McCollum said Susanne Zantop was liberal-minded and involved with Amnesty International. Neither of the two would have favored the death penalty, she said.
But McCollum said she'd never want to see Tulloch freed.
"I don't know what prison would accomplish for him," she said. "It would accomplish protection for the rest of us."Dingman was convicted in 1997 after a jury found him guilty of acting in concert with his younger brother in the murder of their parents.
Lopez was convicted in a fatal shooting during an attempted robbery in 1991. Soto was convicted as an accomplice to first-degree murder after a fatal shooting in 2007.