Killer in Dartmouth professors stabbing case seeks early release from prison

  • James Parker is escorted from Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill after his plea hearing on Dec. 7, 2001. Valley News file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

  • James Parker sheds tears Thursday April 4, 2002 during his sentencing hearing in Grafton County Superior Court in Haverhill, N.H. Parker, 17, received a sentence of 25 years to life after pleading guilty to being an accomplice to second-degree murder in the deaths of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop in their Hanover, N.H. home on Jan. 27, 2001. (AP Photo/Raj Chawla, Pool) RAJ CHAWLA

  • Susanne and Half Zantop are shown on a cruise a few years before their deaths. Courtesy

Valley News
Published: 4/26/2019 1:49:17 PM

James Parker, who has served 18 years in prison after the 2001 stabbing deaths of two Dartmouth College professors, will go before a Grafton County judge on Tuesday and ask to have the remainder of his 25-year sentence suspended.

Parker was 16 at the time of the crim and is now 34. He has served his time inside the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord in an “exceptional manner,” including completing a master’s degree and taking on a leadership role that has led to the betterment of the entire prison community, his attorney, Cathy Green, wrote in a September motion to suspend the remaining portion of Parker’s minimum sentence.

“He made a decision that although he could never change what he had done, or diminish the pain that he caused, he would live a life going forward to atone for his actions,” Green wrote. “He chose to educate himself, but more importantly, to dedicate himself to making the prison community a better and more humane place. He provided opportunities for those who sought to spend their time positively, aiding in their rehabilitation and personal growth.”

Because Parker has served two-thirds of his sentence, state law permits him to seek such relief.

But the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office in November objected to Parker’s request, saying he already received the minimum sentence for his role in the “premeditated, brutal deaths” of Half and Susanne Zantop in their Etna home on Jan. 27, 2001.

Parker, who was 16 when he committed the crime, pleaded guilty April 4, 2002, to second-degree murder for the death of Susanne Zantop, and he agreed to testify against Robert Tulloch, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for the killing of Half Zantop.

Tulloch, who was 17 at the time of the murders, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. His sentence will be examined at a three-day hearing in December after the Supreme Court ruled mandatory life sentences are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

Currently, Parker’s earliest release date is May 2024.

In the objection, Associate Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin recounted the days leading up to the crimes — Parker and Tulloch were bored with Chelsea and were looking for a way to get money and travel — and the crimes themselves.

“Such extraordinary relief is inappropriate in this case, given the facts of the crime the defendant committed and the lasting impacts,” he wrote. “The Zantops were not killed in self-defense or in the heat of the moment. Instead, their deaths were the results of months of detailed criminal planning that included the purchase of weapons and failed attempts to rob and kill others.”

The then-teenagers selected the Zantop home at random, went to the front door and posed as students conducting a survey before stabbing them both to death and fleeing the state. They were arrested the following month after police traced knife sheaths left behind at the Zantop home.

Parker already has been rewarded for his rehabilitation efforts in prison with a 21-month reduction in his sentence because of earned time credits, Strelzin said.

“What the Zantops experienced has to be worth far more than the few years the defendant has served and should serve in prison for what he willingly did to them,” he wrote.

State law, however, has designed a mechanism to recognize the “extraordinary behavior” of an inmate and reward him or her for it with a sentence reduction, Green wrote.

In addition to his advanced schooling, Parker completed a host of vocational training courses and contributed to life inside prison through his expertise in art, music and theater.

He painted murals that are hung throughout the prison, expanded the theater program through the facilitation of productions and directed choirs while preparing and performing concerts with the prison band.

He coached basketball and helped with other volunteer activities like job fairs, Green wrote.

Richard Bedell, an instructor at New England College, said Parker has “relentless drive and motivation,” settled for nothing “less than excellence” and made himself available to other students who needed help, she wrote.

James Brown, a lieutenant at the prison, called Parker “the most industrious individual I have observed in my 25 years working in this environment,” according to the petition.

Parker has only a few “minor” infractions on his prison record and has participated in mental health treatment and counseling, Green wrote.

Robert Kinscherff, a forensic psychologist, evaluated Parker for his risk for future criminal behavior and ruled that “Jim scores at the very low end for risk of violent behavior and reoffending,” Green wrote.

Green raised Parker’s age in the petition and the Supreme Court’s ruling on sentencing for juveniles. Strelzin wrote that the ruling is irrelevant because Parker isn’t facing a life penalty and prosecutors already took his age into account when crafting his 25-year sentence.

Strelzin told the Valley News he had no further comment this week.

Parker’s mother and father still live in Chelsea, and Parker plans to live with them when he is released. He has a job in the construction field lined up, wrote Green, who was unavailable for comment this week.

“Nothing stated in this motion should be interpreted as any attempt to minimize his crime. ... If punishment were the only goal of sentencing, Jim Parker would not bring this petition,” she wrote. “By granting a suspension of his sentence, the court will send a powerful message to other inmates that if they are truly extraordinary in their efforts at rehabilitation and dedicate themselves to the improvement of the prison community, that will be recognized and acknowledged.”

Kevin Ellis, who is a spokesman for the Parker family, said the Parkers have no comment.

Messages left for one of the Zantops’ daughters weren’t returned.

The hearing on the petition will take place at 9 a.m. in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.


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