Christopher Tapp’s decadeslong quest for absolution took another step forward Monday.
Public calls for Tapp’s exoneration have increased in recent years as groups such as Judges for Justice and the Idaho Innocence Project have argued he was the victim of a wrongful conviction.
The clamor has increased over the last 45 days after the Idaho Falls Police Department arrested another man, whose DNA matched evidence from the scene, and that suspect told police he acted alone.
The calls grew louder after a key witness against Tapp told the Post Register that her courtroom testimony was coerced and that police fed her details on the case and told her what to say.
Attorneys indicated during a status conference Monday that a decision on whether to exonerate Christopher Tapp for the murder of Angie Dodge could come as early as July 17.
The announcement came during a status conference in which attorneys for Tapp requested evidence obtained by the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office relating to Tapp’s case.
The status conference attracted several people connected to the case, including Tapp’s mother and other family members. Several law enforcement officers also attended, including Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson and Capt. Bill Squires.
Attorney Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the national Innocence Project, accompanied Tapp’s defense team during Monday’s proceedings.
In May the Idaho Falls Police Department arrested Brian Leigh Dripps after his DNA was found to match samples found at the scene of Dodge’s murder in 1996. The probable-cause affidavit states that Dripps admitted to the murder, telling a detective he was acting alone.
Bonneville County Prosecutor Daniel Clark stipulated to the demands, telling the court he had revealed the general details to the defense the day after a press conference announcing Dripps’ arrest. Clark said he also needed to balance the need to review Tapp’s case with Dripps’ right to a fair trial.
Defense Attorney John Thomas said his client has been waiting 20 years for an answer on this. He is hoping Tapp will be exonerated.
“We are hopeful that things are all going to work themselves out on July 17th,” Thomas said.
Tapp was charged for the murder in 1997 after he confessed to helping other men rape and kill Dodge. He gave several names to detectives, none of whom were charged for the murder.
In 2017 Tapp was released from prison after Thomas and Judges for Justice argued his confession was coerced by the officers who interviewed him.
Tapp made a deal with the prosecutor’s office that allowed him to be released and have his rape conviction dismissed. His conviction for first-degree murder still stands.
“Mr. Tapp would like to express his frustration as well as his gratitude for what is happening today,” Thomas said.
Clark said he had spoken to Johnson about the investigation into Dripps’ statements. He said they expect to have a conclusion within two weeks. Police Department Spokeswoman Jessica Clements said the investigation into Dodge’s murder is ongoing.
Johnson said May 16, the day of the news conference announcing Dripps’ arrest, that the department would talk more about Tapp’s case in “a couple of weeks.” Clements said in a Friday news release investigators have been traveling around Idaho and out of state to conduct interviews related to Dripps’ statement.
Clark said a decision on whether to exonerate Tapp would be made after he reviewed the investigation.
“We believe we are nearly there, however there are pieces still outstanding,” the police department release said. “While we understand and share the desire for resolution in a timely manner, we believe that such an important process must be done correctly and completely. An incomplete or a rushed investigation would be unacceptable and unfair to Angie, the Dodge family, and all others involved.”
Johnson said the status conference was productive and that his department intends to finish their investigation in the coming weeks. Johnson said detectives have been reviewing how the original investigation into Tapp was conducted as part of their current investigation.
Neufeld said the defense was glad to hear a decision was imminent.
“I don’t want anyone to lose sight of the fact that Chris Tapp is also a victim,” Neufeld said.
The motion hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. July 17 in Bonneville County Courthouse.