by holly ramer associated press
A man who has spent more than half his life in prison for killing his parents when he was 14 will be freed if he completes counseling and learns the skills he'll need to return to society, a state parole board ruled Thursday.
"I've stayed out of trouble. I've tried to get myself prepared to move forward," said Jeffrey Dingman, who had just turned 14 when he and his 17-year-old brother, Robert, shot their parents to death in Rochester in 1996.
Testifying against his brother in 1997, Jeffrey said the teens ambushed their parents as they arrived home from work on a Friday afternoon, hid the bodies in the attic and basement and spent the weekend playing and partying with friends before returning to school on Monday. They were arrested after their parents' worried co-workers called police.
Robert Dingman is serving a life sentence after being convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges.
Jeffrey, now 31, got 30 years to life in a plea deal that made him eligible for parole early next year. Had the board granted immediate parole, he would have been released on Feb. 7, but meeting the terms of his conditional parole likely will take several months beyond that, said board chairwoman Donna Sytek.
She and other board members said they were pleased that Jeffrey had done well in prison and at the halfway house where he's lived for the last year, but they worried that he lacks the life skills to succeed in society because he went to prison so young. They said they were concerned that he's had little experience with everyday activities such as managing money, using a cellphone or going to the movies.
"I don't want to just throw you out there cold," said board member Mark Furlone. "For 16 years, you've been insulated from the real world."
Dingman earned his high school equivalency degree while in prison and now walks 40 minutes each way to a full-time job at a steel mill. He said he has saved most of his paychecks, has done some shopping for himself and — in response to a question from Furlone about his cooking skills — said he can heat up canned food. But when asked whether he has any support in the community, he answered "not really."
Dingman's aunt, however, told the board that wasn't true. Speaking through tears, Elizabeth Landry of Greenfield, N.H., said she misses her sister and brother-in-law, Eve and Vance Dingman, every day, but wants to help her nephew.
"My husband and I are willing to help Jeffrey at a second chance at life," she said. "We truly mean it from the bottom of our hearts. We forgive him."
Furlone said he was troubled by a statement Dingman submitted to the board last month in which he described being convicted for "my involvement in my parents' murders."
"That's pretty flat to me," Furlone said. "I don't see a lot of ownership."
Dingman responded, "I killed my parents. I take responsibility." His lawyer, Mark Stevens, later described his client's remorse as "profound."
"He's wracked by it," he said. "He thinks about it every day and has every day since it happened."
During Robert's trial, Jeffrey Dingman calmly admitted wounding his parents 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. But family members denied the boys were abused and described the parents, both 40, as devoted to their sons.
Vance Dingman's sister, Darlyn, told The Associated Press last week that she opposed Jeffrey's release.
"Personally, we wish he had fried, but that didn't happen," she said. "He should not be let out. He's as guilty as his brother."
At the brief parole hearing, Sytek noted the brutality of the crimes and asked Dingman to describe how he has evolved since then.
Speaking in a gravely but nearly monotone voice, Dingman described himself as a better decision-maker.
"I guess I grew up," he said. "I don't just act. I try to be a better person."
Jose Delgado, who was waiting for his own parole hearing Thursday, lives at the same halfway house as Dingman and has known him for about a year. He said Dingman stands out as a hard worker who has learned his lesson.
"He's very smart, very humble, very polite," he said. "He's one of the sweetest people out there."