From the moment Idaho Falls police dragged Christopher Tapp into the investigation of a woman who had been murdered and raped in 1996, homicide detectives were hellbent on pinning the crime on him never mind the fact his DNA did not match the semen on the victim’s body.
After all, the city of Idaho Hills rarely sees more than two murders a year, so the pressure was on police to solve the case of Angela Dodge, an 18-year-old woman whose murder and rape shocked the community which is considered one of the safest in the country.
Seven months after the June 13, 1996 murder, with Dodge’s mother repeatedly calling police to inquire about updates in the investigation, Idaho Falls police connected Tapp to the crime because he was friends with another man they suspected of the crime.
By June 1997, Tapp had confessed to the crime but only after more than 30 hours of interrogations in which he first denied involvement in the murder but slowly began to change his story as the cops fed him information about what they wanted him to say.
They also threatened to execute him in the gas chamber if he did not confess.
The DNA from the killer’s semen did not match either one of the men so police claimed there was a third man at the scene whose identity was being protected by both Tapp and his friend, who was never charged in the Dodge case but was in prison on an unrelated rape case when Tapp was convicted.
Police even coerced an 18-year-old girl to testify she overheard Tapp and his friend admitting to the murder at a party, which she recanted in May.
The cops along with Bonneville County prosecutors were able to convince a jury Tapp was guilty. The jury wanted to execute him but he was sentenced to life instead.
But as private investigators from the Innocence Project and Judges for Justice began looking into the case, they determined the murderer acted alone.
In fact, the real murderer and rapist was living directly across the street from Dodge at the time she was killed. Idaho Falls police questioned him at the time but he told them he was drunk that night and did not remember a thing, so they left it at that.
But Brian Leigh Dripps Sr., 53, confessed to the crime in May after police told him his DNA matched the semen from the scene, telling police he had acted alone, which is the only reason Tapp was exonerated on the murder charge.
After all, like the Idaho Falls Police Department, the Bonneville County District Attorney’s Office was doing all it could to protect itself from blame or liability in how they sent an innocent man to prison without a shred of physical evidence.
All they had was his “confession,” which the interrogation videos show, was manipulated by the cops, including Sergeant Jared Fuhriham, who later went on to become mayor of Idaho Falls and continued to insist Tapp was guilty even when the victim’s own mother was saying they were wrong.
Truth is, the only reason Tapp was exonerated was because Carol Dodge, the mother of the murdered victim, was persistent in her mission to release him from prison just as she was persistent that police find a killer back in 1996 which they were happy to do even if it meant convicting an innocent man.
According to the New York Times:
In 2014, (Carol Dodge) reached out to a false confession expert, who contacted the Innocence Project. Mr. Tapp’s lawyers filed post-conviction motions based on additional DNA testing. And in 2017, the prosecutor agreed to a deal. The court vacated Mr. Tapp’s rape conviction, but not his murder conviction. He was freed for time served.
Over the years, Ms. Dodge encouraged the police to try new ways to identify the DNA. The traditional method — looking for a match in Codis, the F.B.I.’s criminal DNA database — had failed.
Finally Ms. Dodge called CeCe Moore, a genealogist with a consulting firm called Parabon, for help. After creating a new DNA profile from a degraded sample, Ms. Moore identified several relatives in a genealogy database. By building out their family trees and looking to see how they intersected, she identified Brian Leigh Dripps, who had lived across the street from the victim at the time of the murder.
After investigators confirmed that the crime scene DNA was his, Mr. Dripps was arrested. During his interview with the police, he not only confessed, but explicitly stated that he had acted alone and did not know Mr. Tapp.
The case highlights the lack of empathy that drives the criminal justice system into creating criminals for profit, control and prestige and how those in power will not hesitate to destroy lives if it can advance their careers.
And it especially highlights how citizens should never agree to talk to police under these circumstances no matter how innocent they may be because had Tapp refused to talk to cops without an attorney present, he likely would never have been convicted.
But Idaho Falls police offered no apologies for stealing two decades from his life, according to the Post Register.
Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson spoke to Tapp last week and said that Tapp did not ask for a public apology from the department if he was exonerated.
“As far as I can tell, we are square with Christopher Tapp,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said there were no plans to hold an inquiry into what happened during the original investigation, citing the number of previous reports that had been done both internally and externally about the case, and said the department has become much more careful about false confessions in the ensuing decades.
Clark said since Dripps’ arrest in May, the police and prosecutor’s office have investigated Dripps’ claim that he acted alone. After matching his DNA to the scene and verifying other details Dripps gave about the murder, Clark found convincing evidence that Tapp had been falsely convicted and filed a motion to overturn the decision.
In 2012, Dateline NBC produced a very insightful and thorough journalistic investigation into the case which can be viewed in one-minute clips because it is in archive format.
Be sure to watch the part where two of the cops were interviewed and how they continued to swear up and down Tapp was guilty because he had confessed. Not a shred of empathy for the man.
Fuhriham, the former cop and retired mayor who is being interviewed, has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The video interview below with Steve Moore, the Judges for Justice private investigator, shows just how bad Idaho Falls police blundered the investigation. Read his very-detailed report here which will tell you everything you need to know about this case.