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Suspect pleads not guilty in Tenn. package-bomb deaths

February 18th, 2014 1:25 pm by SHEILA BURKE, Associated Press

Suspect pleads not guilty in Tenn. package-bomb deaths

Richard Parker answers questions during his arraignment at Wilson County Criminal Justice Center in Lebanon, Tenn., Tuesday, Feb. 18. (AP Photo/The Tennessean, Jae S. Lee)

LEBANON, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man accused of killing his in-laws with a package bomb that exploded in their rural home was at his mother-in-law's bedside before she died from the blast, a pastor said.

Richard Parker pleaded not guilty Tuesday to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a prohibited weapon. Authorities said the package bomb exploded in his in-laws home in Lebanon, which is about 30 east miles east of Nashville. The Feb. 10 blast killed 74-year-old Jon Setzer, a retired lawyer, and his 72-year-old wife, Marion, died later at a Nashville hospital.

Parker lived in a home directly behind the Setzers.

Before his arrest, Parker sat for hours at Marion Setzer's bedside along with her other children, said Kevin Ulmet, senior pastor of the Nashville First Church of the Nazarene.

"There was no difference in his demeanor than any of the other children that we could discern at the time," Ulmet said.

At the arraignment hearing, Parker, 49, wore an orange jail jumpsuit and showed little emotion. He told Wilson County Circuit Court Judge John Wootten that he did not have the money to make his $1 million bail.

After the hearing, prosecutor Brian Fuller said the explosion was still under investigation. He declined to give a motive or reveal the nature of the explosive device.

Parker's pastor said there was never any sign of trouble between the son-in-law and the Setzers.

Richard and his wife, Laura, were longtime members of the church, Ulmet said. The Setzers had been members for years before moving to Lebanon, but they still had close ties to the Nashville congregation, he said.

Parker's arrest stunned the congregation, Ulmet said.

"Everyone who knows him would describe him as gentle, thoughtful, sensitive, warm sincere," Ulmet said. "Those are words I've heard from everyone."

He said people in the congregation had all thought of Parker as a protective father who wanted his four boys to grow up safe.

Parker has been in trouble before. In 1990, he burned down a home that he was supposed to be renovating. In that case, his father-in-law, who concentrated his practice around estates and trusts, helped represent him. Setzer's former law partner said the father-in-law helped because he didn't believe the arson charge was justified.

Parker served four years of probation and was ordered to pay $40,000 restitution.

The couple whose home was burned, Danny and Rosemary Martin, said Parker got behind on renovations and he burned their house after they confronted him about the problems and gave him a deadline to finish the job. They believed Parker got in over his head financially and thought that burning down their house would solve his problems.

His minister said the church was setting up a fund to help Laura Parker and her children because Richard Parker was the sole breadwinner in the home.

Richard Parker is due back in court in April.

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