Body language and lying
One of Judges for Justice’s biggest criticisms of the Robinson Report is that it relies on reading Chris Tapp’s reactions and body language to see if he is lying.
“(Stuart Robinson’s) report is based almost completely on conjecture and invalid premises, including archaic and discredited theories about an interrogator’s ability to determine the truthfulness of a subject by ‘reading’ their behavior,” Judges for Justice wrote. Judges for Justice wrote in it’s response to Robinson’s report:
The idea that people can detect when someone is lying based on their eye movements, body language or other physical behavior isn’t supported by empirical scientific research. A 2006 meta-analysis of more than 200 studies published between 1970 and 2004 found that students (11,600 individuals have been measured) can correctly tell if someone is lying about 54 percent of the time — basically, a coin flip.
Detectives get it right about 51 percent of the time (760 have been measured), and police officers (660 have been measured) get it right about 55 percent of the time — also coin flips.
Individual studies have shown that some groups are much better at telling when someone is lying, including teachers (70 percent accuracy), social workers (66 percent accuracy) and criminals (65 percent accuracy). But those studies haven’t been replicated and their sample groups were small, so the results may not be reliable.
The analysis also found a very low correlation between how confident someone is about being able to detect a lie and their ability to actually do it. So someone who is confident they can tell when someone is lying is probably wrong.
Wrongful conviction group Judges for Justice has issued a scathing response to Twin Falls private investigator Stuart Robinson’s review of the conviction of Chris Tapp.
“While the Robinson Report cannot ignore the obviously corrupt nature of any ‘confession’ by Christopher Tapp, Robinson fails in any way to comprehend the truth of the Angie Dodge murder,” the group wrote. “Instead, (Robinson’s) report is based almost completely on conjecture and invalid premises.”
Tapp is serving 30 years to life in prison for the 1996 murder of 18-year-old Dodge. He was convicted on the basis of his confession to participating in the crime.
A slew of reports from former FBI supervisory special agents, wrongful conviction experts, polygraph experts and others in recent years have found that Tapp’s was a false confession made under police coercion.
The first round of wrongful conviction reports caused then-Prosecutor Bruce Pickett to ask the Bonneville County Commission for $25,000 to hire an outside expert to review the case. After 15 months, and with a $36,000 final price tag, Robinson’s report was released last month.
The report found, similar to reports from outside experts, that detectives broke with sound investigative procedure by feeding Tapp virtually all of the details of the crime that wound up in his final confession. Normally, investigators hold back nonpublic details of a crime so that a confession can be verified when a suspect gives them information only the killer could know.
“Statements made by Tapp of his personal involvement in the death of Angie are either tainted, questionable or unlikely,” Robinson wrote.
The prosecution-commissioned report also indicated that former Detective Jared Fuhriman, who later served as mayor of Idaho Falls, gave untruthful testimony when he told jurors Tapp had volunteered information only the killer could know.
But Robinson, unlike other outside experts, concluded that Tapp must have been a witness to the crime. He didn’t point to many specific pieces of evidence which led him to that conclusion, saying instead it was based on his overall impression.
“While dismissing Tapp’s statements as ‘unreliable, tainted’ and ‘unlikely,’ Robinson inexplicably uses those very same statements to attempt to prove Tapp’s presence at the murder scene,” Judges for Justice wrote.
That refers to a section of Robinson’s report in which he points to a single detail contained in Tapp’s confession: That Dodge was wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants when she was killed. That detail arose in an exchange between Detective Ken Brown and Tapp. By the time of this exchange, Tapp had agreed to implicate a friend in exchange for an immunity agreement.
“When she answered the door, think about what she had on,” Brown said. “I mean, the only thing that comes halfway close to my mind is a T-shirt and sweats,” Tapp replied.
Judges for Justice didn’t find that to be compelling evidence. “An objective person could easily find Tapp was guessing,” the group wrote. In a previous prison interview, Tapp said it was a guess.
Judges for Justice pointed out that Dodge commonly wore sweats and T-shirts, and that Tapp got the color of both garments incorrect, even after police showed him a photo of her body.
“What was she wearing?” Detective Steve Finn asked in a subsequent interrogation.
“Sweats and a T-shirt,” Tapp replied.
“What color sweats?” Finn asked.
“From the picture, it looked like they were black or dark blue or something,” Tapp replied.
They were purple.
Judges for Justice argues this isn’t the sort of detail which might demonstrate that Tapp’s confession is reliable.
Judges for Justice also criticized Robinson for assuming Ben Hobbs, a man who has never been charged in the crime, is guilty of participating in it. Hobbs was an initial suspect in the crime, and Tapp was pressured to (and eventually did) implicate him in the crime. Neither Hobbs’ nor Tapp’s DNA matches semen, skin cells and other DNA samples left at the crime scene.
“Robinson’s mistaken belief that Tapp was present at the murder scene was based on a false premise, conjecture and inaccurate information, and his report was ultimately unable to authoritatively refute a single conclusion regarding the innocence of Christopher Tapp,” Judges for Justice wrote.
The response calls on Prosecutor Danny Clark to immediately move for Tapp’s release, citing a portion of the Idaho Rules of Criminal Procedure: “When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that the defendant in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction.”
Deputy Prosecutor John Dewey said prosecutors will continue to review the evidence.
“We’re planning on giving the response the review it deserves,” he said.
The report also calls on the Idaho Falls Police Department to solve the crime.
“There is but one way to solve this murder, and bring the actual killer of Angie Dodge to justice: Find the DNA match. Continuing to waste time and resources defending a bad conviction distracts from that goal, and is an affront to the public interest.”
Tapp has been in jail or prison for 7,204 days.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 541-6751.