Christopher Tapp was finally freed from prison earlier this month 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 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 demonstrates that Tapp had nothing to do with the 1996 killing of Angie Dodge in Idaho Falls. The DNA analysis requested by the Idaho Innocence Project has produced clear results that exclude Tapp from everything tested. The tests also exclude all of the other suspects who were part of the prosecution’s theory of the crime. More important is that the scientific evidence tells a very clear story — one that was totally ignored by the prosecutor’s statement.
Tapp is not on any of the evidence in this case, but one man is — in every single profile. His semen was recovered from the victim’s body before Tapp’s trial. We also now know through testing that the same man left a pubic hair on the victim’s face.
In DNA analysis completed during the past year — requested by the government — we have also learned that the same single perpetrator contributed DNA to clothing the victim was wearing. Most recently, in conjunction with a request by the Idaho Innocence Project, the prosecutor had key items tested using the modern forensic tools. This is key, considering the confession that was spoon-fed to Tapp (in exchange for an immunity agreement). In the confession, Tapp said he held down her hands, 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.
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We agreed with the prosecution that these were the key items that should be analyzed. 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) was 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 the teddy bear, left DNA on her shirt and restrained Angie Dodge, leaving his DNA on each hand.
We have fought for 10 years to demonstrate in open court that Tapp is innocent. During that same time, the county continued to test evidence in this case (apparently looking for Tapp’s DNA). We had just received the final results when Tapp was offered a deal, without the delays of hearings, a new trial and possible appeals by the county. Apparently, the prosecutor saw the absurdity of Tapp’s rape conviction given all of the DNA results. But those same results also clear Tapp of murder. The state tested 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 killer had touched.
There is nothing wrong with having an opinion about how a crime 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 this have anything to do with an exoneree’s right to sue? A right 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 Clark fulfilled that duty in dropping the rape charge against Tapp after 20 years. But the first lesson of logic is that half-truth is not truth. Justice for Chris Tapp was not simply finding him not guilty of rape or murder — it was rape and murder. Some other man held down both of Dodge’s hands and left semen on her body. His DNA is at the stab wound, and he moved her teddy bear. That man is not Chris Tapp. Truth and nothing but the truth. You cannot remedy one injustice with another.
Greg Hampikian, Ph.D., a Boise State professor, is director of the Idaho Innocence Project. Jennifer Cummins, lawyer for the Idaho Innocence Project was a co-author