DOVER, N.H. (AP) — A judge lifted the life sentence Tuesday for a New Hampshire man who killed his parents and stashed them in garbage bags as a teenager, making him eligible for release in 17 years.
Now 40, Robert Dingman was 17 when he and his 14-year-old brother shot their parents to death as they arrived home on a Friday afternoon in February 1996. Testifying against his brother, Jeffrey Dingman said the boys hid the bodies in the attic and basement of their Rochester home, spent the weekend playing and partying with friends and then returned to school on Monday. They were arrested after their parents’ worried co-workers called police.
The younger brother got 30 years to life in a plea deal and was released in 2013.
Robert Dingman was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, but was given a chance at release under a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional.
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His attorneys had asked last month for a 25-year sentence, while prosecutors argued for 50. Strafford County Superior Court Judge Tina Nadeau went with 40, saying Dingman’s young age at the time of the crimes and his behavior in prison “demonstrate that he has the capacity to reform.” While in prison, Dingman has maintained jobs, supported other inmates and served on a committee to advocate for them with prison staff, she said.
“He did all of this believing he would never be released from prison,” Nadeau said.
The judge said she also found the forgiveness and support Dingman has received from his maternal aunt and grandmother compelling. In a letter, Elizabeth Landry described caring for her nephew as a baby, taking him to church and enjoying arts and crafts projects with him when he got older. She called him a sensitive child, and said she and her husband are willing to take him in when he is released.
“In the confines of the prison, he has made a positive difference in people’s lives,” she wrote. “It reminded me of the loving and giving person he was as a child.”
Dingman did not address the court Tuesday, but in a letter addressed partly to his aunt and other relatives he expressed remorse for the pain and loss he caused.
“I don’t know how you’re moved to forgiveness, because I’ll never forgive myself for what I did,” he said. “I’m truly grateful for your support even though I don’t feel that I deserve it.”
Addressing the judge, Dingman said while no one wants their worst acts to define them, his do because they’ve “become woven into who I am, changing the way people look at me and the decisions that I make.”
“I live my life constantly trying to make amends for what I did at seventeen,” he wrote. “Please believe how sorry I am for the loss and destruction that my actions and decisions have caused, and how much I wish I had been a stronger and better person to have made the right decisions instead of the wrong ones that I did.”
Dingman did not testify at his 1997 trial. His lawyers presented no witnesses but argued in opening and closing statements that that Jeffrey fired all the shots and then blamed his brother to save himself. Jeffrey testified that he shot his parents first but said his brother instigated the killings and finished off both parents, taunting each before firing the fatal shots. He said Robert asked their father, already shot once, “How about another one?” and told his mother, “Die, bitch!” before shooting her in the head.
Prosecutors said Robert chafed under his parents’ rules and curfews, and Jeffrey described being yelled at repeatedly by his mother and hit by his father over bad grades.
Though family members described Eve and Vance Dingman, both 40, as devoted parents and said the boys were not abused, a psychologist testifying for the defense at a hearing last month said Dingman suffered emotional and physical abuse in a loveless environment.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said the state’s recommendation of 50 years was warranted based on the facts and the law.
“Law enforcement’s goal in this case has always been to get as much justice as we can for Vance and Eve Dingman,” he said. “This was a brutal, premeditated murder of two people, something that was planned ahead. It was unfortunately carried out with deadly efficiency, so we thought our sentencing recommendation was appropriate.”