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Burden of Proof

New Hampshire Investigators Search for Killer or Killers of Two Dartmouth College Professors

Aired January 30, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: An Ivy League campus is shocked by the news of a double-homicide. And New Hampshire investigators search for the killer or killers of two Dartmouth College professors.


KELLY AYOTTE, SR. ASST. N.H. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled that both Susanne and Half's deaths are homicides.

JAMES WRIGHT, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE PRESIDENT: I will miss them first of all as friends. I will miss the smiles that each of them had, which I wish you would have had an opportunity to enjoy. I will miss the approach that they brought to life and the way that they enjoyed students teaching. And I will miss the way that they enjoyed each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just a total shock to everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I definitely think that, until, like, they find out who did it and they have some more information, I probably wouldn't be walking alone in the dark.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

Before we get to our discussion on the double-homicide at Dartmouth, we are going to take you live to a news conference in Hanover, New Hampshire. Let's listen.


PHILLIP MCLAUGHLIN, NEW HAMPSHIRE ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... developments as rapidly as we can. And we represent and understand that you are the conduit to that community. In that sense, we are completely respectful of the function which you play. And we understand the extraordinary importance of your role to account to the community for what it is we are doing here and for what has happened here.

I would like now to turn my attention to a couple of other matters that have been of some concern to me. I was listening to one report last night. And the culture of the particular media was such that it was reported in such a way that there was an issue of alarm in this community. So I want to speak directly to the question of whether or not my office believes that there is cause for public alarm in this community.

The kind of alarm that there should be here would be the sort of alarm that there would be in any community where I live or where you live if two lovely and highly respected individuals were murdered, as occurred here. We would of course all be alarmed to some degree. The question presented is whether or not we have specific information that causes us the kind of concern where we want to communicate to the community that there's some special danger out there that's not otherwise obvious from the circumstances.

And I would like to just give you -- particularly those of you who are out-of-state media -- an example of how my office has dealt with a situation like this in the past. Between one and two years ago, in Concord, some individual -- who remains at large -- literally planted two bombs in public facilities adjacent to the Statehouse. One went off and one was disarmed. Thereafter, we received numbers of messages from this person telling us that he would again plant bombs.

If we had been controlled by just case investigation, we would not have disclosed that information to the public. But we weren't. First and foremost, our duty is to public safety. And when we had information that suggested another bomb would be planted, we immediately deferred to public safety and gave that information to the public. If we had information here which caused us to believe that there was a danger that we could identify, that the person responsible for these murders might in fact be a menace to the community at large, we would tell the community.

And we have absolutely no bases to tell the community that. And it would be irresponsible if I suggested that. So what I would like to do is to leave it: that we do not want to sound any irresponsible alarms, that what we are attempting to do here is to be measured and responsible in the way in which we present these issues to the press.

VAN SUSTEREN: We are going to take a moment and take us away from Phillip McLaughlin, who is the attorney general of New Hampshire, giving a briefing on the double-homicide in Dartmouth -- in Dartmouth College.




A key investigator is urging residents of a college town not to panic in the wake of the murders of two Dartmouth College professors. The state attorney general's office says that no resource will be spared in trying to solve the crime, but police say they don't know who killed them or why.

The bodies of Susanne and Half Zantop were found in their home on Saturday, about three miles from campus. Police say the Zantops often hosted guests in their home. The town of Hanover, site of the murders, has a population of just under 10,000. The last murder case, which was solved, was a double homicide in 1991. And the victims there were two Ethiopian students who were killed with an ax.

Last weekend's murders have garnered national attention and the state's investigative resources.


AYOTTE: Both the New Hampshire State Police and the Hanover Police Department, as well as the attorney general's office, have been investigating this -- these two crimes vigorously. There have been an excess of 30 investigators working full time to solve this double homicide.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is medical examiner Cyril Wecht. Here in Washington, Heather Wilhelm (ph), former federal prosecutor David Schertler and Mark Stolorow of Cellmark Laboratories. In the back, Holiday Johnson (ph), Joseph Dunn (ph) and Nikki Battiste (ph).

Also joining us from Boston, Massachusetts is CNN bureau chief Bill Delaney, who has been in Hanover covering this story.

Bill, first to you. They've been very closed mouthed about the facts surrounding this horrible double homicide. But what do we know at this point about the murder?

BILL DELANEY, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: Very, very scant information, Greta. We just had a press conference from the New Hampshire attorney general, Phillip McLaughlin just in the past half hour, and he again came out and stressed that there was "no special danger," as he put it, to the community.

Now, this will be taken in the community up there in Hanover, New Hampshire, and on the Dartmouth campus, as authorities continuing to imply that this was a targeted crime, that the Zantops were the target of a crime. That's the anxiety on the Dartmouth campus and in the surrounding community. They want to know whether there's a killer on the loose who might strike again randomly, or whether this was a crime of a personal nature.

Now, despite the grief, Greta, up there on the campus and in the community -- these were very beloved, long-time professors -- people are also -- want to know whether they should be looking over their shoulders or whether this was a tragic event, again, of a personal nature.

Now, the attorney general walking a very delicate line. He said he needed to preserve the integrity of the trial process. They're clearly concerned about letting out too much information that could eventually prejudice a jury. So walking a very delicate line, Phillip McLaughlin, New Hampshire attorney general, between trying to calm the community, while at the same time, as you said, withholding any but the most basic information that this was a double homicide.

Greta, we still don't even know just how they were killed.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we have a panel of experts here who have all participated in homicides in different fashions -- or homicide investigations, I should say.

David, we go first to you. You've prosecuted a lot of homicides. Why is it, do you think, that the attorney general of New Hampshire is keeping the details, the manner, the cause of the homicide, everything so quiet at this point?

DAVID SCHERTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think for precisely the reason that they just identified. You want to maintain the integrity of the investigation. Basically, there are two reasons to that. First of all, if there is -- there's a killer out there, you do not want to tip off the killer as to what you know, how far along you are in your investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Even the manner of death, whether it's gunshot, knife or bludgeon or whatever?

SCHERTLER: Well, I think that certain things can be released and will be released in this investigation. The manner of death as found by the autopsy is something that they might release. But I'm not sure at this point that you'd want to describe a whole lot about the crime scene. I'm not sure that the investigators would want to let on as to whether they have some identifiable suspects that might have had a grudge against the victims, and therefore they become the suspects, or whether this is a stranger-on-stranger type crime that was motivated by a robbery. I don't think the police want to let the potential suspects out there know that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Dr. Cyril Wecht, you've also been involved in other -- a number of homicide investigations. When autopsies are done, what kind of information can you gather to assist the investigators in determining who the killer or killers are?

DR. CYRIL WECHT, MEDICAL EXAMINER: The nature of the wounds, Greta, will be very important here. I'm speculating, purely, that this is bludgeoning, blunt-force trauma or knife wounds as opposed to gunshot wounds. And the fact the two of them were found, the scene was quite bloody, as reported, indicates that this was a frenzied attack. I further am speculating that the attorney general and his people are correct this was a focussed attack on these two people; the reason, of course, I do not know.

The medical examiner, along with the criminalist at the scene, will be very, very careful to obtain every single piece of trace evidence, biological and other kinds, every hair, every fiber. It's impossible for me to conceive how this kind of frenzied murder of two individuals would not have involved a transfer of some kind of evidence -- DNA, we hope. You've got a Cellmark person there to address this -- DNA, hair, fibers, and other things.

I believe that it's highly unlikely, given a community of this small size. And I'm familiar with it. My daughter graduated from Dartmouth in '90, one year before the last two murders and I'm thinking of this Mid-Mass Hall where they found a bloody handprint on a chair in the kitchen. So they're going to find this person, I do predict. This is not going to be an unsolved murder.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let's go to Omer Ismael. He's on the phone and he's the editor of "The Dartmouth," which is the student newspaper up there.

Omer, what are you hearing about the homicides on campus?

OMER ISMAEL, EDITOR, "THE DARTMOUTH": Basically, we as well haven't received much information from the attorney general's office. And obviously they're keeping their lips sealed about how it occurred or what happened. But we've just been doing a lot of student reaction pieces. And some students have kind of expressed concern over the lack of information disseminated. But then, in some ways, they do kind of understand why, for the sake of the integrity of the investigation, this has to be kept quiet. The other...

VAN SUSTEREN: Omer, Omer, let me ask you about these teachers, these professors. What were these professors like? Were they popular among the students? Were they involved with the student body?

ISMAEL: I mean, they've been at the Dartmouth campus for 25 years now, and pretty much everyone who spoke with us, both students and members of the faculty, said that they were very open, they had -- they were very close to students, very engaging professors and just very beloved members of the Dartmouth community.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark Stolorow of Cellmark, you know, we've got so many pieces of this puzzle. One of it is that it's being reported that a bloody handprint -- I don't know that for sure -- but there's a bloody handprint in one Dartmouth dormitory. What does -- in your area of specialty, DNA, blood, how does that help?

MARK STOLOROW, CELLMARK DIAGNOSTICS: The possibility of having a fingerprint or a handprint, which is also in blood, means that that fingerprint or handprint was produced at a time when blood was on the hand. That's very important because you can't date the time that a fingerprint was applied. But if it's applied in someone's blood, then all that needs to be done in order to establish its value as evidence is to show that the blood that was there positively matches one of the decedents.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can you -- but can you date the blood? You can't date the fingerprint. Can you date when the blood was deposited there in any way?

STOLOROW: No, blood can't be dated either. But remember, if the event is a fingerprint which has been placed in the blood of someone who is now dead, the value of that evidence is greater than either having a blood stain that can't be dated or having a fingerprint that can't be dated.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, here's another hypothetical. Let's say that the assailant did go in there, did deposit that blood, but that it was from an injury he or she received in the course of a struggle, and now you have a mixed blood. Can you separate out the blood?

STOLOROW: You'll have a pattern which will show DNA factors from both the person who was injured as well as the perpetrator who was bleeding at the time if it's a mixed stain. The technology that we have is sophisticated enough at this point to be able to demonstrate a mixture of both genetic types together.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Wecht, when the person who conducts the autopsy conducts it, I assume being very careful that you don't contaminate any of the evidence is of paramount concern, right?

WECHT: Yes, we've learned a lot, as you well know, from O.J. and Ramsey. And I'm sure that the medical examiner there and the criminalists will be mindful of these things. There will be -- there should not be any contamination.

I want to make one comment about the dating of the blood. You can't date it, of course, but if it was moist, if it was undried, you know, as opposed to something that is dry, it certainly brings it down to parameters of a few several hours. We have some good ideas of how long it takes for certain quantities of blood to dry. And if it's a fresh blood print, that is if it was moist...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... then of course you'd be able to tell.

WECHT: ... then they should be able to find out, you know, from the people at Mid-Mass Hall who was in the kitchen, who bled.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dave, what about the problem of Dr. Wecht mentioned JonBenet Ramsey and we think of contaminated scenes. How much interaction do the prosecutors -- or should they have now with the investigators?

SCHERTLER: A lot. I mean, we kind of come up with this image based, I think, on JonBenet, that prosecutors should work separately from police, that police should be investigating and prosecutors should be standing on the sidelines at this point. And that's really not the way it should work. The prosecutors, as you can see in this case, the attorney general's office, is heavily involved. They should be working hand-in-hand with the police to determine what investigative steps should be taken, monitoring what kind of evidence does come in.

And frankly, the prosecutor, by convening a grand jury, can give the police a lot more power investigatively than they would have otherwise. They can go out, subpoena witnesses to come in and testify before the grand jury, they can subpoena records and document of all sorts. That's a power that I think police need at the very outset of the investigation. I think it was a mistake in JonBenet Ramsey not to do that. VAN SUSTEREN: Bill Delaney, in the few seconds we have left, when can we expect some information to be released from these prosecutors?

DELANEY: Hard to say. The attorney general, Greta, has promised a press conference at noon every day but has given no indication when there might be an arrest in this case.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you very much for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE," does Georgia need a new state flag? Today's guest, Martin Luther King III. Send Bobbie Battista your e- mail and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And tonight on "THE POINT," more than a week later, the Clinton pardon fallout continues. Questions about the previous administration follow Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton into her freshman term on Capitol Hill. Tune in at 8:30 Eastern time.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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