In 1990, when Richard Parker faced an accusation that he’d burned down a cabin he was renovating for another couple, attorney Jon Setzer believed in his son-in-law’s innocence and helped to defend him.
“He felt that the suggestion that Richard had been guilty of arson was not justified,” attorney George Cate said of his former longtime law partner, in an interview with the Associated Press. “He was supporting his son-in-law at that time.”
In a plea deal, Parker eventually was given four years’ probation and paid $40,000 restitution. But the cabin’s owners, Danny and Rosemary Martin, never forgot that incident – and when they heard a package bomb had killed Jon Setzer and fatally injured his wife, Marian, at their rural Tennessee home on Feb. 10, the Martins made a swift mental connection.
“I told my wife Richard Parker had killed the Setzers,” Danny Martin told the AP.
Prosecutors agreed, and on Tuesday charged Parker, 49, with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of unlawfully possessing a prohibited weapon – in this case, the suspected bomb – for the deaths of his in-laws, Assistant District Attorney General Jimmy Lea tells PEOPLE.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Parker answered brief questions from the judge with a simple “yes” and “no” at the arraignment, where a not guilty plea was entered, according to local news reports. He will be represented by the 15th Judicial District Public Defender’s office.
No motive has been revealed. “It is still an ongoing investigation, and therefore we really are still not able to give out any details,” says Lea.
Parker remains in the Wilson County, Tenn., jail on $1 million bond. After Parker stated he was indigent, the judge referred his case to the public defender but an attorney has not yet been appointed.
Parker and his wife, Laura lived behind her parents’ home in Lebanon, about 40 minutes east of Nashville, on property where Jon Setzer once proudly showed his law partner Cate the orchard that his son-in-law had planted.
Jon Setzer, 74, a retired attorney, died in the explosion. His wife, Marian, 72, a longtime dental assistant, died two days later from her injuries.
After initial reports that the package had been mailed to the couple’s address, investigators later said that it had been placed at the home. The prosecutor would not elaborate.
The Martins suspect money as a motive.
They say they hired Parker – who until recently ran a construction business that specialized in historic renovations – to restore an 1830s cabin for them. But when work fell behind the June 2010 completion deadline and they felt the quality suffered, Rosemary Martin says they confronted Parker about the problems on Tuesday, July 10, 1990.
“He said he would have it finished on Friday,” she says, “and he burned it on Friday.”
The couple believe money troubles stymied Parker’s progress, and he turned to arson for relief. “We were trying to get an explanation, and he looked at my husband and he said, ‘Oh, I thought y’all had a lot of insurance on that house,” says Rosemary Martin. “To me, the only thing that guy is about is money.”
Danny Martin agreed.
“I guarantee you,” he says, “this is going to come down to being about money.”