Zantop case sees plea deal, motive

The end of 2001 saw a number of major developments in the Zantop homicide case, including the announcement of an insanity defense for one defendant, the guilty plea of the other and the first official theory of motive.

State prosecutors are now alleging that attempted robbery was the motive behind the Jan. 27 murders of Half and Susanne Zantop.

A grand jury brought new charges alleging Robert Tulloch — who announced his intention to plead insanity in November — murdered the Zantops in the course of a burglary. His alleged partner, James Parker, pled guilty on Dec. 7 to one count of accomplice to second-degree murder in the death of Susanne Zantop.

The new indictments against Tulloch represent the first motive formally offered by prosecutors in the stabbing deaths of the two Dartmouth professors.

Parker, who pled guilty after losing a battle to be tried as a juvenile, now faces a prison sentence of 25 years to life, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, and will assist the state in the Tulloch’s prosecution.

Though Parker pled guilty only to the killing of Suzanne Zantop, Ayotte said that he had also “taken responsibility for his actions” in the murder of Half Zantop. She noted that an objective analysis of “trial risk” played into the decision to offer Parker a deal.

At the hearing where he changed his plea, Parker was questioned to ensure he understood the plea bargain and entered into it “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily.”

Asked if he entered the guilty plea because he was in fact guilty, Parker answered, “Yes, sir.”

The new indictments against Tulloch, which allege that he and Parker were intent on robbing the Zantops, carry the same mandatory sentence of life without parole as the original charge that Tulloch’s “conscious object” was to murder the couple.

The new charges may be easier to prove before a jury, however.

“A jury usually likes to hear that the defendant had the murders thought out over a period of time, which may be hard to prove,” John Kacavas, a former New Hampshire chief homicide prosecutor, told the Boston Globe. “These indictments get around that problem.”

Tulloch will use an insanity defense in his trial, which is set to begin April 8. His attorney, Richard Guerriero, announced his intention to argue that Tulloch suffers from a “mental defect or disease” in a court filing on Nov. 30.

Guerriero told the Associated Press that the new robbery charge will not change his strategy in the trial.

“It doesn’t change the facts of the case. We’re going to proceed to court on the facts we’ve stated,” he said.

Lawyers from both sides of the case have filed motions requesting hearings over the past few weeks, with prosecutors seeking evidence related to Tulloch’s mental state and defense attorneys challenging the admissibility of the state’s forensic evidence.

Defense attorneys have also asked a judge to rule that the prosecution not be permitted to introduce opinion testimony unless it is proved reliable by the state.

Evidence that prosecutors claim links Tulloch to the murders includes fingerprints on a knife sheath found in the Zantops’ study and boot footprints left at the crime scene.

Additionally, two knives of the same model that Parker allegedly purchased online in early January 2001 were found hidden in Tulloch’s bedroom. The military-style knives were stained with blood later that proved to contain the DNA of the two victims.

The state has said it still knows of no connection between the Tulloch and Parker and the two professors prior to the killings.

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