Dartmouth Murderer Seeks Case Reconsideration

The recent United States Supreme Court ruling in the Miller v. Alabama case regarding mandatory life-without-parole sentences issued to juveniles will directly impact Dartmouth. After the 5-4 split decision, convicted murderer Robert Tulloch seeks relief under the ruling.

Tulloch was sentenced in April 2002 along with accomplice James Parker for the murder of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop in January of 2001. The tale is well documented in Andrew Patti’s book Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders.

Patti reports that the 17-year-old Tulloch’s and 16-year-old Parker’s first attempt at robbery and murder happened in the summer of 2000. The two boys arrived at Andrew Patti’s house late at night and knocked on the door with the intention of murdering all the inhabitants. Patti, suspicious of the late night knocking, refused to allow Tulloch entrance. Upon seeing Patti armed with a Glock pistol, Tulloch and Parker fled the scene. Patti, upon trying to call the police, discovered his phone line cut and a makeshift grave outside his home.

Fast forward to January. Tulloch and Parker arrive at the Zantop residence and gain entrance posing as students doing a school survey. After threatening both professors for their PIN numbers, Tulloch repeatedly stabbed Half Zantop in the face and chest. He then commanded Parker to slit Susanne’s throat, stabbing her in the face and body as she expired.

Both were caught on the run and tried in court. Parker made a plea bargain with the state in return for his testimony against Tulloch. He pled guilty to second-degree
 murder and wa s
sentenced to a
 minimum of 25
 years in prison
with possibility
of parole after 16
years. Tulloch’s
public defender, 
Richard Guerriero, unsuccessfully attempted to
 argue an insanity 
defense. During
 the sentencing,
 Parker wept un
controllably and 
apologized for his 
crimes. Tulloch
 showed no emotion and made no
 statement.

Enter the Supreme Court. On
 June 25th, our 
highest court decided that mandatory life sentences for crimes 
committed by juveniles are in violation of the 8th amendment. More specifically, the use of a mandatory life sentence for minors falls under “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The 5-4 split on the Miller v. Alabama decision predictably fell on partisan lines with the liberal bloc overcoming the conservative. Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote for the majority, claimed the mandatory life sentencing without possibility of parole for children violates the ban of cruel and unusual punishment forbidden in the constitution. Kagan’s opinion was heavily based on the Roper v. Simmons case that banned capital punishment for minors. Chief Justice Roberts, in the dissenting opinion, correctly noted that the Roper case rationale was that the death penalty for minors is unnecessary because life imprisonment is an available alternative.

Following the decision, Tulloch contacted Guerriero who requested to be reappointed to represent Tulloch. Tulloch seeks retroactive consideration of his case, given the court’s decision.

This development does not imply that Tulloch will be soon released, or released at all. First, it is not clear the courts will retroactively apply the new amendment to Tulloch’s sentencing. Guerriero has only requested a hearing to discuss and consider the matter at hand. Second, the Supreme Court ruling simply bans mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for minors. If Tulloch’s case does reach the courts, a judge may simply decide that he does indeed deserve the life-without-parole sentence.

These points would bring about the same result. No harm no foul. Tulloch likely remains in jail for the rest of his life.

However, wherever there is discretion there is always a gray area. Imagine a scenario in which the wrong judge with the wrong sentiment handles the case. It is then very plausible that Tulloch’s sentence could be reduced to a life sentence with a possibility of parole. It’s even plausible that, given Tulloch’s juvenile status at the time of the crime, his sentence could be reduced to a finite jail sentence with a shorter eligibility time for parole.

Now stop imagining. We live in a world where Casey Anthony can “lose” her child for over a month and go off partying in local clubs while her daughter is missing and later found dead in the woods. Not to mention she can walk off free, declared innocent by the discretion of a jury. We live in a world where Willie Horton can stab a compliant gas station attendant 19 times and receive a “life sentence without parole.” What then? Horton is released into society on a weekend furlough program where he beats, stabs, and binds a man and proceeds to rape the man’s fiancé twice in front of him. All of these events, which I am sure many had to read once over to believe, came rom the discretion of our court system.

A proposition: as to Robert Tulloch’s mental state, the mere four months that separated him from legal adulthood were completely inconsequential. Tulloch is a cold-blooded murderer who robbed the Dartmouth community of two beloved professors. Andrew Patti’s Glock and the hard work of investigators and police officers across the country are the only reason Tulloch’s death count was limited to two.

Now, no matter how small the chance, it is possible that Robert Tulloch will set foot in our society again.

–John C. Melvin