×

Completing the sentence circuit

Robert Tulloch teamed up with James Parker to bludgeon to death Half and Susanne Zantop, two popular Dartmouth College professors, in their Etna home in January 2001. Tulloch was tagged as the mastermind of the crime that shocked not only the college community, but the state as well because of its capricious and ruthless nature. Tulloch, who was 17-years-old at the time of the murder, was charged as an adult, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and received a mandatory life prison sentence.

Police found the bodies of Vance and Eve Dingman wrapped in plastic garbage bags in the basement and attic of their Rochester home in February 1997. Both had been shot several times. Their sons, Robert and Jeffrey Dingman, then 17- and 15-years-old, respectively, were charged with the crime. They were reportedly unhappy with what they thought was a too-meager allowance and too-strict parental oversight. Jeffrey plead guilty to second-degree murder and testified against his brother, who was convicted of first-degree murder and given a mandatory life sentence.

Robert Goyette was waiting for his wife in his car in front of Martha’s Exchange in Nashua in March 1991 when 17-year-old Eduardo Lopez Jr. stuck a gun inside the window and mumbled something. Goyette sped up to escape. Lopez ran along with the car for a few steps before pulling the trigger and shooting Goyette point-blank in the neck. Goyette died the next day. Earlier in the night, Lopez had also shot and injured a homeless man. A little more than two years later, Lopez was found guilty of first-degree murder and handed a mandatory life sentence.

Michael Soto received his mandatory life sentence for his role in the January 2007 murder of Aaron Kar in Manchester. The 17-year-old Soto suspected Kar was involved in a baseball-bat beating of his friend, Roney White. Soto, along with Roney’s brother Roscoe and others, cruised Manchester in a Chevy Blazer in search of the beating perpetrators. When they spotted Kar and others near a trash bin, Soto cocked his gun and handed it to Roscoe, who covered his face with a mask and fatally shot Kar in the leg and abdomen. Soto was convicted of first-degree murder and his 2011 appeal was rejected by the N.H. Supreme Court.

While these crimes are vastly different, they share the common thread that last week led Superior Court Justice Larry Smuckler to vacate their mandatory life sentences. Lawyers for each asked for the ruling based on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court finding that mandatory life sentences for juveniles violate the constitutional protect against cruel and unusual punishment.

In each of the four cases, a judge will now hear evidence and issue new sentences. The defendants could have their sentences reduced or be resentenced to life in prison without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court did not rule that life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional, only that they could not be mandatory.

The one New Hampshire case that stands out as different from the others is Soto’s. Although he supplied the weapon, he did not pull the trigger. He certainly deserves to be locked up for a long time, but whether it should be for life is another question. It’s reasonable that the court will take another look at this one.

As for the others, their crimes were as gruesome as they were heinous. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any evidence could convince a reasonable and dispassionate person they didn’t get exactly what they deserved the first time around.