On the cusp of freedom

Chris Tapp at the Bonneville County Jail on Sept. 19. Tapp has been in jail or prison for nearly half his life. Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com

All the pieces are in place for Chris Tapp to be released Wednesday after 20 years in prison.

Public Defender John Thomas first took up Tapp’s case in 2009. For him, it’s the end of an eight-year road full of long hours and uncertainty. Tuesday night, he felt the cloud of uncertainty had lifted. The finish line stands clearly in sight.

“We are victorious,” Thomas said.

Among the group of people who have been close to the case for years, sentiments varied wildly on the eve of Tapp’s release as several gathered at Jaker’s restaurant to contemplate the long-anticipated moment.

Because the deal doesn’t involve total exoneration, because the court system won’t be forced to state Tapp’s innocence plainly, the decision to take a deal left some upset.

Carol Dodge, the mother of victim Angie Dodge, has been distraught that what she believes is a lie will stand in truth’s place. And she fears that the pressure to solve Angie’s murder will dissipate.

In a Facebook post, Dodge said she hopes those who want her daughter’s murderer brought to justice will show up at the courthouse at 11 a.m.

Vera Tapp, Chris’ mother, has worried that her son faces an uncertain future with a murder on his record, but she also looks forward to being with him outside of barbed wire for the first time since he was 20.

Mike Heavey, co-founder of Judges for Justice, traveled from Seattle to Idaho Falls to watch Tapp’s release.

Heavey is a retired Superior Court judge, state representative and state senator from Washington. He became involved in the investigation of suspected wrongful convictions during the Italian murder trial of fellow Seattleite Amanda Knox.

Faraz Zarghami, the videographer who helped produce a series of videos detailing the police coercion of Tapp and contamination of his confession, also made the trek from Seattle to Idaho Falls.

Heavey had hoped for formal exoneration.

“I’m getting over the grieving of the death of what I saw as the right outcome, what I saw as justice,” he said.

“But in the end, we get what we wanted,” Zarghami said. “He gets out of prison.”

But Tapp, who remained imprisoned Tuesday night, had to weigh the risk of a fight to clear his name in a court system that has repeatedly ruled against him with the certainty of freedom, along with a tainted official record. Taking the deal was a hard decision, Thomas said, but the right one.

“Chris Tapp is innocent,” Thomas said. “He was facing down life plus 10 years until parole (would become possible). We decided that it was too risky. There were too many what ifs.”

Thomas said the challenge process has taught him a lot about the legal system, including what he sees as major flaws with Idaho’s post-conviction relief process. Chief among these, Thomas said, is the one-year statute of limitations for post-conviction relief cases.

“I want to take the deal because I want to be out,” Thomas said Tapp told him. “I want to start my life. I don’t want to take the risk.”

When Thomas sought to challenge several aspects of Tapp’s conviction, he said, the case was nearly derailed by procedural issues.

“I don’t think there should be a statute of limitation on post-conviction issues,” he said.

The court will convene at 11 a.m. today. After proceeding through the details of the agreement, reducing Tapp’s sentence to time served and dismissing some charges, Judge Alan Stephens is expected to grant Tapp the freedom he has sought for two decades.


Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.