It was a hearing 25 years in the making, a moment several of the participants had only imagined until it was real.
District Judge Joel Tingey sentenced Brian Leigh Dripps, 55, to a minimum of 20 years and up to life in prison for the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge.
Both the prosecution and defense acknowledged that, due to Dripps’ poor health, 20 years was effectively a life sentence and that he would likely die before becoming eligible for parole.
For Angie’s family, it was a taste of justice they had been denied for a quarter-century. Two of her brothers, Todd Dodge and Roger Dodge, highlighted how Angie’s death had affected their lives for decades. And Carol Dodge, Angie’s mother who spent those years fighting for her daughter, made clear that no sentence could repair the damage Dripps inflicted.
“We had to go through 25 years of hell,” Carol said. “Whatever you give this man is not enough.”
Todd named several people outside of his family who were also hurt by Dripps’ decisions. He mentioned Christopher Tapp, who served 20 years in prison for the murder after he was convicted based on a false confession. Several other men were also investigated and had their DNA tested before police identified Dripps as a match.
Todd Dodge said his own children will not return to Idaho Falls, a city they associate with their aunt’s murder.
“I often feel like an extra in a movie as I watch another chapter of my disturbing life unfold with each new television series or news article that showcases my family and the tragic death of my family,” Todd Dodge said.
Todd and Roger Dodge brought a large photo of Angie that was taken at the crime scene. They unfolded it on the floor to show Tingey just what Dripps had done to their sister in bloody detail.
Angie was found dead in her apartment in June 1996. She had been stabbed, and her throat had been cut deeply enough that she was nearly decapitated. A semen sample was recovered from the scene.
“He sentenced me to a lifetime of hell, and so far I have served 9,126 days,” Todd Dodge said.
Todd also said Tapp should also have been allowed to speak at the sentencing, noting that Tapp’s life had also been drastically changed by Dripps’ actions.
Dripps was arrested after the Idaho Falls Police Department, working with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, identified him as a suspect by using GEDMatch to test DNA recovered at the crime scene against those submitted by people looking for information on their ancestry.
IFPD Public Information Officer Jessica Clements released a statement on behalf of the department.
“The Idaho Falls Police Department would like to offer our sincere appreciation to the Idaho State Attorney General’s Office for their efforts today and over the past two years to reach this point in seeking justice for Angie Dodge,” the statement read. “We are proud of the efforts of Captain Bill Squires, Captain Joel Tisdale, Lieutenant John Marley, Detective Sage Albright, Detective Jeff Pratt, Sergeant Josh Deede and others who saw this investigation through to these final stages – including obtaining the confirming DNA sample, apprehending Mr. Dripps, obtaining his confession and answers to long unanswered questions.”
Both Roger and Todd Dodge asked Tingey to reject the plea agreement, saying they wanted Dripps to face a jury.
Defense Attorney Elisa Massoth gave a presentation to the court about Dripps’ life in an attempt to humanize him and present him as more than the man who raped and killed Angie. She told the judge about how Dripps was adopted at a young age, how he was shy and intimidated when moving to a new school.
Dripps had reached out to his biological father in the hopes of building a relationship, only to be rejected. He followed in his adopted father’s footsteps by joining the U.S. Marines. Massoth emphasized the love and support he received in letters of support from family.
“The Brian Dripps that I know is not capable of what he admitted to,” one of those letters said.
Massoth talked about how, after 1996, Dripps had gone on to support three children after his wife left. She suggested the decline in their relationship played a part in his drug and alcohol use. She said he was telling the truth when he said he could not remember killing Angie Dodge.
“It’s a frustrating report, but it’s a real report,” she said.
Defense Attorney James Archibald also said Dripps had expressed remorse. With his voice shaking, Archibald said Dripps “thought his declining health was God’s way of punishing him for what he did to Angie.”
Massoth said she and Archibald had worried about Dripps’ health, afraid he could die before the case was finished. In November Dripps had a heart attack, increasing their worries.
Archibald said he knew the Dodge family was unsatisfied with the 20-year fixed sentence, but that the same was true for their side.
“Agreeing to 20 years is like a death sentence for my client,” Archibald said.
Deputy Attorney General Jessica Kuehn countered, however, that Dripps had 23 years to come forward about the murder before he was caught, which she said could have saved the family grief or allowed Tapp to be released and exonerated sooner.
Where Massoth pointed out that Dripps had gone on to focus on his family, Kuehn pointed out that those similar moments were denied to the Dodge family.
“In that 23 years, Mr. Dripps lived every day as if he had never killed Angie Dodge,” Kuehn said.
Carol Dodge made clear that Dripps’ remorse wasn’t enough given the damage he had done.
“You have shattered our family,” Carol Dodge said to Dripps during her victim impact statement. “You, Brian Dripps, deserve eternal Hell.”
Dripps apologized for his actions, the first time he has done so publicly since his arrest.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t intend for this to happen. I can’t imagine what grief I’ve caused,” Dripps said.
Dripps said he wished he could have a “do-over” of that night, and that he could only imagine how angry he would be if the same thing had happened to one of his own children.
“I’m sorry. I know you’ll never forgive me, but I’m sorry,” Dripps said.
In addition to prison time, Dripps was ordered to pay a total of $10,000 in fines.