Robert Tulloch hopes for new sentence - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Robert Tulloch hopes for new sentence

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Robert Tulloch Robert Tulloch
James Parker James Parker

A flower garden on the campus of Dartmouth College is a silent reminder of two beloved professors whose lives were snatched away in an instant.

Robert Tulloch and James Parker, both of Chelsea, committed the brutal murders of Half and Susanne Zantop. Prosecutors say Tulloch was the mastermind behind the crime which took place in Etna, N.H., in 2001. Tulloch was just 17 years old when he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and received a mandatory sentence of life without parole. But a recent Supreme Court ruling says mandatory sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.

"Alabama versus Miller was the case in which the United States Supreme Court said that it was cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juveniles to mandatory life sentences," said Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School.

That ruling was the basis for a court hearing in Concord Tuesday morning. Lawyers for four New Hampshire murderers-- including Tulloch, who waived his right to attend-- want their clients to get an opportunity for a new sentence with a hearing before the fact.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin disagreed.

"The usual rule of retroactivity is that new decisions are applicable to defendants who have cases pending at the time that new decision comes down. None of these four murders had cases pending at the time that the new rule was announced in Miller versus Alabama," Strelzin said.

Strelzin acknowledged that anyone under 18 convicted of murder in the future would not face a mandatory life sentence.

"Miller's new rule is that there has to be individualized sentencing for juvenile murderers before the state can impose a life without parole sentencing. So that is the law of the land and that is what the state will follow going forward in the future. But the issue is whether or not that rule applies to cases in the past," Strelzin said.

Even if the judge does allow a new sentencing hearing, it does not necessarily mean Tulloch will ever be a free man.

"The court did not rule out life sentences for juveniles, but said that judges had to figure out whether the child was acting in a way that reflected just bad judgment of their youth or whether they were somebody who should never be let out of prison," Hanna said.

The judge did not issue a ruling Tuesday, that will come in the next 30-60 days. Lawyers say whoever loses is likely to appeal. So this debate could very well end up back at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under a deal with the state, Tulloch's accomplice, Parker, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He's serving a 25-to-life sentence. Therefore Tuesday's debate does not apply to him.

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