Chris Tapp, who’s served almost 20 years in either jail or prison for a 1996 murder, can now proceed with an appeal of that conviction, an Idaho district judge ruled Thursday.
“It is a fantastic decision,” public defender John Thomas said. “We’ve survived to fight another day. And I think ultimately the truth will come forward and Chris will be exonerated of this crime.”
Tapp is serving 30 years to life for the murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge. But in recent years, a slew of experts have produced reports suggesting that he falsely confessed to participating in the murder. His DNA does not match any of the many DNA samples that were left at the scene.
Tapp’s appeal (technically called a “motion for post-conviction relief”) is based on the claim that prosecutors didn’t turn over video tapes of three polygraph sessions at the time of his original trial. During those sessions experts say Tapp was fed specific details about the crime that later turned up in his confession. The appeal also claims that a fourth polygraph video was never turned over and was likely lost or destroyed.
Such evidence is typically called “Brady evidence” after a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling called Brady v. Maryland which held that prosecutors have an obligation to produce all evidence which is potentially exculpatory. Thomas relied on court discovery records which noted that many polygraph and interrogation videos were turned over to the defense. Those records don’t note that the other four videos were produced.
In their motion to dismiss the appeal, Bonneville County prosecutors argued that the discovery records were likely inaccurate, and they submitted affidavits from individuals involved in Tapp’s original prosecution in an attempt to make that case. They also argued that Tapp had raised the issue too late to allow the appeal to move forward. Judge Alan Stephens ruled against the prosecution on both arguments.
“The record is replete with evidence that all of the interrogation tapes and several additional polygraph examination tapes were produced, but no such record exists for the three polygraph examination tapes addressed in the current petition,” Stephens wrote. “The court finds that the most probable inference from the lack of evidence in the record that the tapes were produced is that they were not produced.”
Stephens also ruled that he couldn’t determine how long ago Tapp’s attorneys could have reasonably known that the tapes were not produced without holding an evidentiary hearing.