Tulloch To Stay Locked Up For Zantop Murders Despite Ruling, Experts Say
Convicted murderer Robert Tulloch sits in the back of a police car as he leaves the courthouse after sentencing in North Haverhill, N.H., on April 4, 2002. (Valley News Tom Rettig)
Robert Tulloch is escorted into the Grafton County Superior Courthouse in North Haverhill, N.H., on May 1, 2001, by a sheriff. (Valley News Jennifer Hauck)
Robert Tulloch, who is serving life in prison without parole for murdering two Dartmouth College professors in 2001, isn’t likely to walk out of prison any time soon, even with an order for a new sentence hearing.
“Nobody, neither Tulloch, his lawyers, the attorney general’s office, believes he will get a sentence that will result in him getting out of jail. It’s just not going to happen,” said University of New Hampshire School of Law professor Albert Scherr, a longtime criminal defense attorney.
Even with a new sentencing hearing, Tulloch could receive the same punishment of life in prison with no parole. But if he does receive a lesser sentence, it still would include a lengthy continuation of his time in prison, experts said.
Tulloch was 17 when he and another Chelsea teenager stabbed and killed Half and Susanne Zantop inside their Etna home.
In 2002, he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and one count of murder conspiracy, and has been serving his life sentence ever since.
Mandatory life sentences for juveniles without parole and without affording a sentencing hearing were thrown into question in June 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such sentences amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. After the ruling, Tulloch contacted his former lawyers and asked if the ruling would affect his sentence, according to court documents.
Richard Guerriero, a Keene, N.H., attorney who represents Tulloch, said his client has requested that he not comment.
Tulloch, now 30, is incarcerated at the New Hampshire state prison for men in Concord.
A conviction on a first-degree murder charge automatically triggers a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole over which judges have no discretion. This time around, the judge will have discretion on Tulloch’s sentence.
“It’s a resentencing, not a retrial,” said Charles Temple, a UNH School of Law professor and director of the criminal practice clinic. “The facts of the murder and the facts that they have been convicted, that’s all established. Now the judge has to look at punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation factors.”
In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole cannot be imposed on juveniles without first holding a sentencing hearing that takes into account any mitigating factors.
At the same time, the Supreme Court ruling has posed a legal quandary for courts because it did not say whether the ruling applies retroactively to cases that have already been adjudicated. As a result, courts around the country are having to decide how to apply the ruling.
On July 29, Judge Larry Smukler of Merrimack Superior Court ruled that Tulloch was entitled to a new sentencing hearing, along with Robert Dingman, Eduardo Lopez, Jr., and Michael Soto, who also were juveniles when they were found guilty of crimes involving murders and sentenced to life without parole.
Judge Smukler wrote in his ruling that Miller v. Alabama established a “new substantive rule” which “applies to the petitioners’ cases retroactively.”
At a May hearing, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said the Supreme Court ruling should not be applied retroactively to cases in which direct appeals have been exhausted, such as Tulloch’s case.
Steven Spader, who was convicted of killing a Mont Vernon woman with a machete and maiming her daughter in 2009 when Spader was 17, was the first person in New Hampshire to receive a resentencing hearing. Spader was granted a resentencing hearing because his appeal was pending before the state Supreme Court.
In April, Spader received the identical sentencing as the one he received in 2010: life without parole plus 76 years for convictions on related crimes.
In Tulloch’s case, the state has 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision ordering a new sentencing hearing, but Strelzin said no decision about that has been made yet.
“We’re reviewing the order and will consider our options,” Strelzin said on Monday.
Scherr, the UNH law professor, said he thinks appealing the decision would be a “waste of resources” because there are so few juveniles who have been convicted of first-degree murder and for whom the Supreme Court ruling is applicable.
“None of those people are going to get out of jail,” Scherr said. “Let’s be done with it. Let’s not spend a lot of money litigating. Let’s just have the resentencings and put it to rest.”
At the new sentencing hearing, prosecutors would likely contend that Tulloch remains a danger to society, said Temple, the UNH professor. The nature of the crime will be an “overwhelming factor” in the state’s argument, he said.
The defense could also present a pre-sentence investigation report that would detail Tulloch’s background, education and criminal history in an effort to get his sentence reduced. One mitigating factor, for example, that could work in Tulloch’s behalf would be successful participation in a prison program, Temple pointed out.
The Zantops’ daughters, Veronika and Mariana Zantop, no longer live in the Upper Valley and could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Tulloch’s parents, Michael and Diane, live in Chelsea, Vt., and did not return a call.
“Sentencing hearings can be long tough battles on both sides and extremely emotional and difficult for both sides,” Temple said. “I’m sure there was never full closure for victims in homicide cases. You try to move on with your life, but this will flash back the murder scenes.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.