Tapp to be freed after 20-plus years in prison

Courtesy of Vera Tapp Christopher Tapp and his mother, Vera, pose for a photo during an undated prison visit. courtesy Vera Tapp

BOISE — A deal has been reached in the Chris Tapp case that is expected to make him a free man Wednesday. He has spent just under half of his life in a prison cell.

Lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense confirmed the existence of the deal to the Post Register on Monday evening. Judge Alan Stephens must approve the deal.

“Chris Tapp has entered into a negotiated deal with the prosecuting attorney wherein he’ll give up his right to post-conviction proceedings, and if the judge accepts the deal, he will be a free man on Wednesday,” said Public Defender John Thomas, Tapp’s attorney in several post-conviction relief actions.

Thomas also said Tapp won’t admit guilt as a part of the deal. He said he couldn’t disclose the full terms of the deal. Deputy Prosecutor John Dewey confirmed that a deal had been reached but declined to comment further.

Both sides are expected to meet with Stephens today, and a hearing will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Tapp has spent 20 years in prison for the 1996 murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge. He was sentenced to life in prison, and he wasn’t due for his first parole hearing for 10 more years.

Tapp was convicted because he confessed. But in recent years a slew of reports from false confession experts, geneticists, polygraph experts and former FBI supervisory special agents have concluded that Tapp’s confession was false, that the details were fed to him by police and that he was coerced with threats of the gas chamber if he didn’t cooperate.

Judges for Justice, the Center for Wrongful Convictions, the Idaho Innocence Project and the New York Innocence Project all worked with Thomas and others to overturn Tapp’s conviction. The deal doesn’t mean that Tapp’s conviction will be vacated, however.

There are many samples of DNA that were left at the crime scene, all of which so far point to one man. That man’s identity remains unknown but it isn’t Tapp.

In Tapp’s confession, he implicated another man named Ben Hobbs in the crime. Prosecutor Danny Clark said previously that there isn’t any evidence apart from Tapp’s confession that Hobbs was involved, and Tapp’s confession is insufficient to charge Hobbs. Neither has there been evidence to charge the numerous other people Tapp implicated in the crime during the course of his confessions.

The deal comes roughly two weeks before two extended evidentiary hearings were expected to be held in Stephens’ court, at which Thomas was expected to call many of the reports’ authors as expert witnesses.

Thomas made an impassioned plea for those hearings to Stephens at a hearing in November, when Stephens had to consider whether to throw out Tapp’s petition for post-conviction relief for being brought too late.

“This guy’s innocent, and we know he’s innocent. But we’re going to let him rot in prison?” Thomas said, adding that he would turn in his bar card the day he came to believe that was true.

For the two women at the heart of the case — Carol Dodge, Angie’s mother, and Vera Tapp, Chris’ mother — the news of the deal was bittersweet.

Vera said she looks forward to Chris coming home a free man. But she wishes prosecutors would exonerate him fully of the murder charge.

“I think the prosecutor could drop the murder charge, because Christopher had nothing to do with murdering Angie Dodge,” Vera Tapp said. “He will still be convicted as a murderer, and he won’t be able to find a job with that on his record.”

And Carol Dodge said she is “heartbroken” over the deal.

“Chris spent 20 years of his life convicted on a lie, and now he’s being released to live the rest of his life as a lie because people who have power can justify this,” Dodge said. “They could care less what happens to Chris. All they cared about was having no liability.”

Dodge said she’s also worried that her daughter’s murder will be forgotten, that the pressure to solve the case could dissipate. The man who killed Angie on a hot summer night more than 20 years ago is out there somewhere. And she wants him brought to justice.

Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.

Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.