Four NH teen killers to get day in court on sentences
CONCORD — Four teen killers who claim their life without parole sentences are unconstitutional under a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision want new hearings so they can argue for reduced sentences.
Attorneys for convicted first-degree murderers Robert Tulloch, 30, Robert Dingman, 34, Michael Soto, 23, and Eduardo Lopez Jr., 39, maintain their clients are entitled to retroactive relief, even though their clients' convictions were final.
All four were 17 when they committed their crimes. As such, they were "children," a class of offender "constitutionally different from adults" in terms of sentencing, the Supreme Court ruled last June in Miller v. Alabama and its companion case, Jackson v. Hobbs.
In Miller v. Alabama, the court declared unconstitutional automatic life prison terms without chance of parole for juvenile murderers. The court ruled this violated the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
A judge could still sentence a juvenile murderer to life without chance of parole, but only after a sentencing hearing at which evidence of mitigating factors — such as immaturity, recklessness or mental health issues — could be presented.
The defense claims the Supreme Court determined the rights contained in Miller are retroactive for juvenile homicide offenders even if their convictions are final.
The state disputes that claim.
Whether Miller applies retroactively to the four cases will be the sole issue argued in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord Tuesday morning. Tulloch waived his appearance at the hearing, the court's clerk said last week. It was not known last week if the other three defendants intend to appear.
Tulloch, 30, formerly of Chelsea, Vt., pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the 2001 slayings of married Dartmouth College professors Half and Suzanne Zantop inside their Hanover home.
Dingman, 34, was convicted with his younger brother of the 1996 murders of their parents, Vance and Eve Dingman, in their Rochester home.
Soto, 23, was convicted of accomplice to first-degree murder in the 2007 shooting death of Aaron Kar in Manchester.
Lopez, 39, was convicted of first-degree murder for the 1991 shooting and robbery of Robert Goyette in Nashua.
To date, just one juvenile killer was deemed eligible for resentencing in New Hampshire under Miller v. Alabama. Steven Spader, 21, had his resentencing hearing held April 22. He waived his right to appear at the hearing and was sentenced in absentia. He received the same sentence — life without parole plus 76 years — that he did when originally convicted at trial.