Man up for parole more than 2 decades after Dartmouth professor stabbing deaths

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A man who has served more than half of his life in prison for his role in the 2001 stabbing deaths of two married Dartmouth College professors as part of a plan to rob and kill people before fleeing overseas is getting his first chance at parole.

James Parker was 16 when he was part of a conspiracy with his best friend that resulted in the deaths of Half and Susanne Zantop in Hanover, New Hampshire. Now just shy of 40, he’s scheduled for a state parole board hearing Thursday, years after pleading guilty to being an accomplice to second-degree murder.

Parker has served nearly the minimum term of his 25-years-to-life sentence.

“I’m sorry,” Parker said, crying at a brief hearing in 2002. “There’s not much more I can say than that. I’m just really sorry.”

Years later, he’s earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in prison and created paintings that are displayed in the building, according to a 2018 motion filed by his lawyer. He’s been a part of theatrical, musical and sports activities and has helped develop inmate education guides. Parker received earned time credits toward his sentence and he lives in a transitional housing unit, which is usually the final placement for a resident prior to their release from incarceration, said a Department of Corrections spokesperson.

Parker sought a sentence reduction in 2018, his accomplishments praised by corrections staff at the time. Under the law, he was eligible to do so because he had served two-thirds of his term, but he withdrew the petition in 2019 after the Zantops' two daughters objected.

“The Zantops were not killed in self-defense or in the heat of the moment,” prosecutors said in the objection. “Instead, their deaths were the result of months of detailed criminal planning that included the purchase of weapons and failed attempts to rob and kill others.”

Parker's lawyer, Cathy Green, said Parker remains deeply sorry for his actions.

“He has spent his time in prison very constructively with dedication not only to his own rehabilitation, but to making it a better place for others,” she said in a recent statement.

Parker and then-17-year-old Robert Tulloch, bored with their lives in nearby Chelsea, Vermont, wanted to move to Australia and estimated they needed $10,000 for the trip. They eventually decided they would knock on homeowners’ doors under the pretext of conducting a survey on environmental issues, then tie up their victims and steal their credit cards and ATM information. They planned to make their captives provide the pin numbers before killing them.

For about six months, they had tried to talk their way into four other homes in Vermont and New Hampshire, but were turned away or found no one home.

Parker, who cooperated with prosecutors, said they picked the Zantop house the morning of Jan. 27, 2001, because it looked expensive and it was surrounded by trees. Half Zantop let them in. Parker told police the interview lasted at least 10 minutes before Tulloch stabbed Zantop and then directed him to attack Susanne Zantop. Tulloch also stabbed her.

They fled with Half Zantop’s wallet, which contained about $340 and a list of numbers, but then realized they had left sheaths to their knives at the house. They attempted to go back but saw a police officer was in the driveway. Fingerprints on a knife sheath and a bloody boot print linked them to the crime, but after being questioned by police, they fled and hitchhiked west. They were arrested at an Indiana truck stop weeks later.

In his interviews with police, Parker said he and Tulloch developed a different sense of morality.

“We thought, you know, what everybody was doing was silly. Like going to school and like wasting half your life with education that you’re not ever going to use,” he had said at the time.

Parker agreed to testify against Tulloch, who had planned to use an insanity defense at his trial. But Tulloch abruptly changed his mind and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He got the mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Now 40, Tulloch is scheduled for a resentencing hearing in June. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2012 that it is unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to mandatory life imprisonment without parole and the state Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Tulloch and four other men who received such sentences for murders they committed as teenagers should be re-sentenced.

Susanne Zantop, 55 and Half Zantop, 62, were born in Germany. She was head of Dartmouth’s German studies department. He taught Earth sciences. Respected in their fields, the professors were beloved by colleagues and students, many of whom had an open invitation to their home a few miles from the Dartmouth campus.

A campus memorial garden in their name has trees, perennial flowers and ferns. The college also holds an annual Zantop lecture in Susanne Zantop's honor on comparative literature.

“There's no statement in the entire world that can capture the absolute horror, disbelief, pain, sadness and anger that my sister, my family and friends have experienced since the murders,” said Veronika Zantop, a daughter of the victims and a psychiatrist who lives in the Seattle area, had said before Tulloch's sentencing.

“Rather than focus on the inhumanity and monstrosity and the sheer stupidity of their brutal and senseless deaths, I try to console myself by trying to perpetuate the essence of my parents.”

She did not respond to requests seeking comment before Parker's parole board hearing.