Christopher Tapp was finally freed from prison after more than 20 years. Prosecutor Danny Clark has released a statement in which he attempts to explain the actions of his office in dropping all counts of rape against Mr. Tapp, but leaving in place the murder conviction (with a deadly-weapon enhancement). Clark’s statement unfortunately does not explain this split, which is peculiar since all of the same forensic evidence used to dismiss the rape charge equally demonstrate that Mr. Tapp had nothing to do with the murder of Miss Dodge. The DNA analysis requested by the Idaho Innocence Project has produced clear results that exclude Mr. Tapp from everything tested. The tests also exclude all of the other suspects that were part of the prosecution theory of the crime. More importantly, the scientific evidence tells a very clear story—one that was totally ignored by the prosecutor’s statement.
Mr. Tapp is not on any of the evidence in this case, but one man is—in every single profile. First of all, his semen was recovered from the victim’s body—before Mr. Tapp’s trial. We now know, through testing requested by the Chris’s legal team (and the victim’s mother), that the same man left a pubic hair on the victim’s face. In DNA analysis completed during the last year—requested by the government—we have also learned that the same single perpetrator contributed DNA to clothing the victim was wearing—both her sweatpants and her sweatshirt. Most recently, in conjunction with a request by the IIP, the prosecutor had key items of the prosecution’s theory tested using the most modern techniques available (including MVac). This is key, since the confession that was spoon-fed to Mr. Tapp (in exchange for an immunity agreement) had Mr. Tapp contacting the victim and her possessions in three places. He held down her hands, he stabbed her once through her shirt and wiped his hands on the shirt, and he moved her teddy bear. It was clear from the crime scene that she had been stabbed through her shirt, and that the teddy bear had been moved. Fortunately, the clothing and bear were preserved, and swabs from the victim’s hands had been taken but never tested.
We agreed with the prosecution that these were the key items that should be analyzed with the most modern technology possible. These items would either show the truth of the prosecution’s theory, or finally put it to rest. When the results were known, they produced a clear picture of what happened. None of the state’s suspects (including Chris Tapp) were on any of the evidence, but in a remarkably clear set of results, the semen donor was consistently on all of them. We now know who moved Angie’s teddy bear, left DNA on her shirt, and restrained her—leaving his DNA on each hand.
For 10 years, we have fought to demonstrate in open court that Mr. Tapp is innocent of murdering Angie Dodge. During that same time, the county continued to test evidence in this case (apparently looking for Mr. Tapp’s DNA). We had just received the final results, when Chris Tapp was offered a deal. He could be freed, without the delays of hearings, a new trial, and possible appeals by the county. Apparently, the prosecutor had realized the absurdity of Mr. Tapp’s rape conviction given all the DNA results, and agreed to drop the rape conviction. But those same results also clear Mr. Tapp of murder. The state tested Miss Dodge’s sweatpants, nightshirt, the pubic hair, her hands and the teddy bear—not just for evidence of rape, but because those are all the places they concluded the murderer had touched.
There is nothing wrong with having an opinion about how a murder was committed, it is the first part of reasoning: hypothesis. But to ignore one’s own results, is to employ neither science nor common-sense. Could the paradox of Tapp’s murder conviction have anything to do with an exoneree’s right to sue? A right which Mr. Tapp had to surrender as part of his deal with the county.
The courtroom is about the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A prosecutor’s obligation is to seek justice, not to uphold convictions. Indeed, the prosecutor has an ethical obligation to see that wrongful convictions are overturned, and Mr. Clark fulfilled that duty in dropping the rape charge against Mr. Tapp after 20 years. But the first lesson of logic is that half-truth is not truth. Justice for Chris Tapp is not simply finding him not-guilty of rape or murder, it is finding ¬¬¬him not-guilty of rape and murder. The DNA did not say that he was not-guilty of rape, it said he was not on any evidence—and another other man was. That man held down both of Angie Dodge’s hands, he left semen on her body and a pubic hair on her face, his DNA is on the shirt through which she was stabbed, and he moved her teddy bear. One man is on every piece of evidence in this case—not just the rape evidence. Rape and murder. Truth and nothing but the truth. You cannot remedy one injustice with another.
Hampikian, Ph.D. is a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University and director of the Idaho Innocence Project. Cummins, Esq., is an attorney with the Idaho Innocence Project.