Christopher Tapp, who spent two decades behind bars for the 1996 rape and murder of Idaho Falls resident, Angie Dodge, is expected to be exonerated this week. As reported in the Post Register, unreliable evidence — a coerced confession and testimony from a witness who later recanted and claimed police pressured her — prompted the jury’s guilty verdict in 1997. But Tapp’s nightmare is expected to end in a hearing before Seventh District Judge Alan Stephens on Wednesday, July 17, thanks to a newer use of DNA, genetic DNA analysis.
In prison Tapp maintained his innocence — the crime scene DNA did not match him — and unsuccessfully petitioned the courts five times for post-conviction relief. His recent sixth petition is supported by a filing from Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark, who has asked that Tapp’s conviction be vacated, opining, “There exists clear and convincing evidence that (Tapp) was convicted of a crime he did not commit.”
What caused this reversal of official response to Tapp’s petitions for relief? Genetic DNA analysis led to the identification of Angie Dodge’s across-the-street neighbor, Brian Leigh Dripps, who admitted he committed the crime, acted alone, and had never met Christopher Tapp.
A related news report by Local News 8 ABC reported that Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson said genetic investigation led to someone in the Dripps family tree. Utilizing crime scene DNA, a genealogist identified three people in the Dripps family related to the suspect on a genealogy website. Police surveillance enabled retrieval and analysis of a discarded cigarette butt to confirm the DNA match with Brian Dripps. He has been charged with the crime.
Expanded use of DNA in genetic analysis resulting in the identification of the perpetrator is noteworthy in this tragic wrongful conviction case. Additionally, Tapp had agreed in 2017 to a deal with prosecutors in which he would be released from prison on time served with the rape charge dropped, but with the onerous murder conviction remaining on his record. On Wednesday along with Tapp’s expected exoneration, this later travesty of justice will also be rectified.
The Idaho Innocence Project is to be commended for pursuing justice in this case for a decade.