Friday marked the 19th anniversary of Chris Tapp’s time behind bars — 6,940 days.
During that time, Tapp’s father died. He couldn’t go to the funeral.
And, three weeks ago, Lori Hollandsworth — a Tennessee woman who advocated for his release and married him in a short 2013 prison ceremony — died in a car accident.
“She was my voice,” Tapp said, wiping away tears.
Tapp is serving a sentence of 30 years to life for the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge. He was convicted because he confessed.
He says it was a false confession, that he knows nothing about the crime except what was fed to him by police during a series of long interrogations and polygraph tests.
A slew of reports from former FBI investigators, a polygraph expert, DNA experts and false confession experts have come to the same conclusion: Tapp falsely confessed under coercion. Angie Dodge’s mother, Carol, has reached the same conclusion.
Carol Dodge says her motivation isn’t to get Tapp out of prison. She wants her daughter’s murderer to pay for his crime. She has reviewed the evidence for years, prodded police and prosecutors relentlessly, demanded new DNA testing and sought outside experts, but she hasn’t found one piece of scientific evidence that points to Tapp.
And as long as Tapp is behind bars, and as long as police continue operating under the theory that he and two other men did it, she doesn’t think the killer will face his reckoning.
The science points to one man, she says. The man who left semen, hair, fingerprints and skin cells at the scene. She doesn’t know who that is.
“I am at the mercy of the city of Idaho Falls and the prosecution to find the one and only killer of my daughter,” she said. “They need to do their job.”
The Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office hired Stuart Robinson, a former police officer and private investigator based in Twin Falls, to review the investigation and outside reports. He says he has finished his initial review of the case and is prepared to begin looking at the outside reports.
He doesn’t have an exact date when he expects to release his findings.
Wednesday morning, retired Judge Mike Heavey arrived at the Boise airport. Heavey is the co-founder of Judges for Justice, an organization that investigates potential wrongful convictions.
He has been looking into Tapp’s case for the last few years, spending hundreds of hours reviewing interrogation tapes, looking at evidence and investigating people he thinks could have committed the Dodge murder.
Heavey has just released a two-hour video documenting how he believes Idaho Falls Police Department detectives coerced Tapp into a false confession. He has flown in from Seattle to show Tapp the video.
He arrives at the Idaho State Correctional Center in Kuna around 10 a.m. After checking in, a guard leads him toward a property room to meet Tapp. Tapp enters a short time later, dressed in a white T-shirt, khaki pants and white shoes. He is currently in close custody — confined to a cell with another man for 22 hours a day.
Tapp sits hunched forward, grasping his elbows as he watches the video on Heavey’s laptop. He’s mostly silent, though he laughs bitterly at times, such as when then-Detective Jared Fuhriman tells the 20-year-old Tapp that he’s on his side, that he can trust him.
Thirty-nine-year-old Tapp’s hands turn red from constant wringing as he watches the video.
The video isn’t a dramatic documentary. It’s a slow, plodding examination of key moments in the interrogations.
The video posits that Tapp told six separate stories to police between his first interrogation in early January 1997 to his final confession later that month.
Tapp’s first story is that he doesn’t know anything; it’s the same story he tells today. His final story is that he, a friend named Benjamin Hobbs and an unknown third man went to Dodge’s house; that Hobbs and the third man argued with Angie, raped her, stabbed her, and then forced Tapp to cut her so that he couldn’t testify against them.
Hobbs was arrested, and later convicted, of a rape in Nevada. That made him an early suspect, though he was never charged in the Dodge case. Steve Moore, a retired FBI supervisory special agent, reviewed the case and wrote, “There was not one piece of credible evidence, physical, circumstantial or testimonial, of Hobbs’ involvement in the Dodge murder.”
The video’s thesis is that each of the shifts in Tapp’s story can be explained by information that was fed to him by interrogators, along with the dual pressure of a possible death sentence for not cooperating and full immunity for giving police information on the crime.
The video makes another suggestion: that police convinced Tapp he had repressed memories of participating in the crime, and that a polygraph machine could unlock these memories. At several points, Tapp is asked to confess to something, and he responds: But I would remember that, wouldn’t I?
At one point, Detective Steve Finn, the polygrapher, tells Tapp he was deceptive when he denied involvement in the murder. Finn tells Tapp that he could face life in prison or the gas chamber. Tapp says he doesn’t remember being at the apartment. He says he’s scared.
“The reason why is because you — subconsciously, you remember,” Finn tells Tapp.
In a recent report, Boise State University professor and polygraph expert Charles Honts concluded police used the polygraph as a “psychological rubber hose” rather than as a tool to detect deceptiveness. The sensors used by the machine are improperly placed, Honts wrote, and the questions aimed at Tapp diverge wildly from accepted procedure.
This line, that Tapp was there but he repressed all memory of it because it was so brutal, is repeated by Fuhriman in a subsequent interview. Tapp is again asserting that he wasn’t there.
“I know this,” Tapp says, holding his head and weeping. “Promise to God, I know this.”
Fuhriman responds that he represses memories himself.
“Some of the brutal stuff we see on the streets?” he says. “My mind shuts down on me because I don’t want to remember it. OK?”
A few days later, with an offer of immunity, Tapp is prepared to say he was there with Hobbs. But he seems unsure of any details and he begins to offer whatever comes to his mind.
Detective Ken Brown asks in what room the murder took place.
“The only thing that comes to my head’s the living room,” Tapp says. “I don’t know why. It’s just the living room popped there. Anything that pops in, I’m gonna say. … I don’t know if it’s right or not.”
It’s not right. The murder took place in Angie Dodge’s bedroom. Tapp gets lots of details wrong: where the house is located, where the bedroom is within the apartment, where the killer ejaculated on her body.
The moment when 20-year-old Tapp says he cut Angie Dodge finally comes, and inmate Tapp hangs his head and closes his eyes, not moving for several seconds.
He’s asked about seeing his 20-year-old self speak the words that two decades later still have him behind bars. He looks around at the concrete floors as shouts ring through the hallways and says, “This is where I might wind up spending 30 years of my life.”
Actually, it could be much longer.
Since being incarcerated, Tapp has twice attempted to re-confess and give police new names for the third man in exchange for a reduced sentence. Once he named a federal prison inmate he met. Another time he gave a name, Steve Price, that he says he made up.
False confession expert Steve Drizin reviewed these confessions and wrote that they didn’t change his view that Tapp’s confession is false. Tapp never offered any information that indicates he knew anything about the crime, just that he wants out of prison.
The Idaho Falls Police Department says it’s an indication Tapp’s guilty. Police Chief Mark McBride declined to comment for this story.
It will be another 11 years before Tapp’s first parole hearing. And if he is innocent, it will present him with a conundrum that often faces the wrongfully convicted.
Parole boards want to hear that a convict has accepted responsibility. That requires saying you’re guilty.
Tapp says he won’t lie again.
“That may mean I never get a chance to go home,” he says. “So be it.”
Tapp is asked if there’s anything he wants to say to the people of Idaho Falls. He says he wants to thank Carol Dodge. If it weren’t for her relentless search for her daughter’s killer, he says, he wouldn’t stand a chance.
And he apologizes for lying.