IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - After spending nearly two decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, Christopher Tapp was exonerated from the wrongful conviction of the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge Wednesday.
"I'm thankful that I've been given this second chance of life," Tapp said.
In 1998, Tapp was found guilty of Dodge's rape and murder after giving a false confession under police coercion. The wrongful conviction resulted in Tapp spending two decades behind bars.
"I wasted 20 years of my life for something I never did, but again, I also grew up those 20 years," Tapp said.
According to a member from Tapp's legal team, Tapp is the 367th person to be exonerated by DNA testing nationwide. 28% of people who have been proven innocent through DNA made false confessions during custodial interrogations.
"What we can do is commit to learn from the past and make the truth and justice more important than conviction rates," said Tapp's public defender John Thomas.
"I hope that things get learned from this mistake, and I hope things get changed and things get better where there's never another mistake like this ever happens again in this community or in this state," Tapp said in a press conference.
You can watch the entire press conference below.
Tapp said the biggest thing is, "I don't ever want anybody to ever forget about Angie Dodge," Tapp said. "That is the one thing in this world that people sometimes do forget because she is foreshowed sometimes with all of this that is going on right now. I hope nobody ever forgets Angie Dodge."
As for the future, Tapp says he is excited to begin his new life, and for the moment is still processing the liberating news he got Wednesday.
"The world has changed again, you know, two years ago, I accepted the fact that I was going to be a convicted felon and I didn't have certain rights, I couldn't do certain things and I couldn't go to certain places, live a different life. Now I don't have to worry about that. It's a new life, new beginning, a new world for me, and I'm going to enjoy it every day, but I'll still continue doing what I've been doing, going to work and living the life that I should have been living for the last 22 years," Tapp said.
Tapp says his family plans to stay in the area for a while, and he is excited to continue at his current job.
It was also a day of mixed emotions for Angie's mother Carol Dodge whose determination led to finding the DNA experts that led to Christopher Tapp's exoneration.
She said she was thrilled Tapp is not only free but has a totally clean slate in the murder case because the right thing had been done. But sad when she thinks of all the years he lost in prison, and she lost without her daughter.
"Those same 20 years that got taken from you Chris, it's the same 20 years that got taken from your mother, and it's the same 20 years, and it's the same 20 years that got taken from me," said Dodge. "Although we all lost that 20 years, how do you balance the scale, because Vera got Chris back? I don't get Angie back. And Chris, it's like setting a bird free. Chris is free to fly, and I'm still kind of on the ground wounded and I don't know how to fix it."
Dodge also talked about Brian Dripps, the man whose DNA matched the murder scene and confessed to the killings earlier this year.
While she says she does have hard feelings, she can't help but feel sorry for him and his family and the impact this will have on their lives.
As far as the Angie Dodge murder case goes, where does it go from here?
We asked the Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney and Idaho Falls Police Chief what the next steps are.
"I think I've described it the last few weeks, there is finally, there's a conclusion in sight," Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark said. "The stuff a couple years ago regarding Mr. Tapp, that was just a stoppage of events, that's really all it was. I think at this point we are finally at a place where there's going to be a conclusion in the near future. And that's a good thing."
"As far as steps with the case, there is still prosecuting to take place. So that doesn't end until that prosecution comes to a conclusion," Idaho Falls Chief Bryce Johnson said. "As far as Tapp, I believe with the police department this would be the end of it. He's not part of our case anymore."
Instead, through DNA evidence and a confession, 53-year-old Brian Dripps, of Caldwell, is charged with the murder and rape of Angie Dodge in 1996.
Dripps made his formal initial appearance before a judge back in May. A preliminary hearing for Dripps is scheduled for August 2.
The history of the Christopher Tapp case
In December 1998, Tapp was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.
Later, the first post conviction relief petition was filed in October 2002. The case was dismissed. The second post conviction relief was filed in March 2009. It was later dismissed in May 2013. A third relief petition was filed in September 2012. It too was dismissed. A fourth post conviction relief petition was filed in May 2015. In this one, the petition involves two issues. First, if prosecutors should have turned over videos of the interrogation and polygraphs. Second, if new evidence can be presented to show Tapp was coerced into confessing.
This is where the story begins to get interesting. What has been traditional court procedures with what most people believe is a convicted killer going through all the legal motions, now starts to raise questions about whether Tapp was coerced to confess. Public defender Thomas is convinced many rules were broken in the interrogation process. He fights endlessly for Tapp to get another trial.
Then "Judges for Justice" comes on board. The retired judges study wrongful conviction cases like what they believed Tapp's was. Judge Mike Heavy spent two years listening to 25 hours of interrogation video. He then watched the polygraph video. He said it was in that video he could see, "coercion, manipulation, and eventual brainwashing of an impressionable 20-year-old high school dropout."
July 2016, Bonneville County prosecutor Danny Clark hired a private firm to investigate the Tapp case.
December 2016, the Bonneville County prosecutor released his views on the independent report, finding no evidence of reversing Tapp's conviction.
But something happened between December 2016 and March 2017. DNA results from the rape and murder scene in no way implicated Christohper Tapp, not the semen sample, not the hairs left behind, not the 'touch' DNA' tests performed on key pieces of evidence.
Tapp walked out of jail Wed., March 22, 2017, at 11 a.m. a free man. Rape charges were completely dropped, but Tapp agreed to the second-degree murder conviction.
Idaho Falls Police announced in a press conference on May 16, 2019, Brian Dripps confessed to stabbing Angie Dodge on his own in 1996.
Dripps is a match the DNA evidence in the case, including semen a pubic hair recovered from the victim's body.
When asked about owing Tapp an apology, Police Chief Bryce Johnson announced, "Chris Tapp is another very important part of this case that deserves its day in the sunlight, and we will do that...that day will be in a couple of weeks, and we'll do that, whatever is right in a couple of weeks. We need a little more time to dot I's and cross t's."
You can see our timeline of the Angie Dodge case, here.