Court hearing Monday will not exonerate Tapp, but officials hope for resolution soon

Chris Tapp talks to his lawyer before a 2016 hearing in the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls. Tapp was convicted for the 1996 murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge, but was released in 2017.
Chris Tapp talks to his lawyer before a 2016 hearing in the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls. Tapp was convicted for the 1996 murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge, but was released in 2017. Taylor Carpenter

IDAHO FALLS — Many are expecting Christopher Tapp to be exonerated Monday for the murder of Angie Dodge, but local officials say the scheduled court hearing is meant to discuss other issues.

That doesn’t mean an exoneration is not coming, but Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark tells the Idaho Falls Police Department needs to finish its investigation into Brian Dripps Sr. before Clark can make a decision on Tapp.

“I can certainly appreciate those that want a timely conclusion to this issue, and we’re very sensitive to that fact,” Clark says. “We also feel an obligation, given what’s happened historically on the case, that whatever is done, is done correctly.”

Dripps, 53, is charged with rape and first-degree murder for the June 1996 death of Dodge. He was arrested last month and admitted he acted alone in the crime, according to an affidavit of probable cause obtained by His DNA also matched DNA at the crime scene.

Tapp was convicted in 1997 after confessing to the murder, but serious questions were raised during the following years that the confession was coerced or false. He was released from prison in 2017.

When Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson announced Dripps’ arrest during a May news conference, he was asked about Tapp’s future.

“Chris Tapp is another very important part of this case that deserves its day in the sunlight, and we will do that,” Johnson said. “That day will probably be in a couple weeks and we’ll do that, whatever is right, in a couple of weeks.”

In a news release Friday, the Idaho Falls Police Department said at the time Johnson made the comments, detectives estimated they could finish a majority of their investigation within two weeks.

“Due to the large amount of information collected over the last 23 years, as well as additional information found through the continued investigation since May 16, that process has taken longer than originally expected,” the release states. “Investigators have been working diligently to corroborate statements made by Dripps. Evidence and reports from the original crime scene have been compared to new information from Dripps’ confession. As recently as Wednesday, investigators traveled across the state and have traveled to other states around the country for valuable interviews with original and newly identified witnesses.”

Clark says he is unable to make a final decision on Tapp’s case until he has received all information and evidence from the police department.

“Once that is completed by law enforcement, the Dodge family will have the right to review everything, and we will promptly act to make a decision regarding the future of Tapp’s conviction,” Clark says.

The hearing Monday is meant to discuss sharing information about the Dripps case with Tapp’s attorneys, according to Clark.

“Monday’s hearing is a desire for everyone to put in front of a judge the current status of the cases and to discuss the disclosure of information to (Tapp’s) team. These conversations have been going on with Tapp’s attorneys the last couple of weeks,” Clark says.

In a news release Thursday, The Idaho Innocence Project, which is part of Tapp’s legal team, expressed hope that during the hearing, “the prosecutor will take this opportunity to address what is now a tortuously long process of exoneration.”

Clark says Tapp’s attorneys knew that his office is not yet in a position to make a final decision.

“Tapp’s defense team have been well aware that the decision on Tapp’s case would not be made by the July 1 hearing and was known by them at the time of their news release,” Clark says.

Clark says his office “will act very quickly” in making a decision about Tapp’s future after the police complete their investigation. The Idaho Falls Police Department hopes to be finished soon.

“We believe we are nearly there; however there are pieces still outstanding. While we understand and share the desire for resolution in a timely manner, we believe that such an important process must be done correctly and completely,” police said in the news release. “An incomplete or a rushed investigation would be unacceptable and unfair to Angie, the Dodge family and all others involved. The Idaho Falls Police Department remains committed to finding the truth of what occurred on June 13, 1996, and to sharing that truth as soon as possible.”

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