CONCORD — The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the sentences in two different murder cases, after which a relative complained that racism was behind his Puerto Rican brother receiving a longer sentence than a White defendant.
The unrelated cases involved two men who committed murder in the 1990s when each was 17:
Eduardo Lopez, who was 17 in March 1991 when he shot and killed one man during a robbery, shot and injured another and fought with police. The Supreme Court upheld his sentence of 45 years to life.
Robert Dingman, who was 17 in 1997 when he killed both of his parents at their Rochester family home. The Supreme Court let stand his sentence of 40 years to life.
The cases are two of six life-without-parole sentences of New Hampshire minors that were upended in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out automatic life sentences for minors.
Lopez and Dingman were re-sentenced, and the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday on the appeals of those sentences. Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Union Leader quoted Lopez’ brother, who suggested that race played an issue in the different sentences.
“It doesn’t make any sense. What else could it be?” said Nashua resident Aaron Lopez on Tuesday. “One’s premeditated, double homicide. The other’s not premeditated and they give him five extra years.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court did not address race. It focused on the argument of Lopez’ appellate lawyer, who said that based on life expectancy behind bars, 45 years to life amounted to a life sentence for his client.
In the Dingman case, the justices issued a three-page order and said that a formal opinion was not necessary.
An email to the New Hampshire court system seeking comment on Lopez’ statements was not returned.
Different judges sentenced the two. Larry Smukler, now retired, resentenced Lopez. Chief Justice Tina Nadeau resentenced Dingman. In both cases, the New Hampshire Attorney General, whose office prosecutes homicides, sought a 50-year sentence.
Lopez said his brother has reformed himself behind bars, especially after being transferred to prison in Massachusetts, where more programs are available. He earned his high-school equivalency, became certified in HVAC and learned to play bass guitar, which he played in a prison band.
Since being transferred to New Hampshire, Lopez has become bored, in part because some programs are shut down because of COVID-19, and in part because most programs focus on sex offenders and drug addicts, he said.
Lopez said his brother’s lawyers considered raising issues of race in the appeal, but they are hard to pursue unless a judge makes a blatant statement indicating racial bias.
His brother has already served 30 years of his sentence. In a few months, he will be eligible to petition a judge for sentence reduction, Lopez said.
Both rulings were unanimous. Justice Gary Hicks wrote the Lopez ruling, and the other three concurred. No author was listed for the Dingman case, but three justices concurred — Hicks, James Bassett and Barbara Hantz Marconi.
Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald, who was not on the court when the arguments were heard, did not participate in the rulings.