Two weeks ago, Destiny Osborne, who served as the key witness in the case that led to the conviction of Chris Tapp for the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge, completely recanted her testimony.
How many of us have faced our past so bravely?
We should honor what Osborne did. She came forward to speak the truth. She did this without any hope of personal gain — in fact, at risk of great personal loss. She did it because she believed it was the right thing to do.
Some are angry with her for giving false testimony two decades ago when she was a teenager.
But anger at Osborne is completely misplaced. She is a lot like Tapp, the young man this community threw away 23 years ago.
Both Tapp and Osborne, following interrogations, told police substantially similar stories. Why were they so similar? Both say they repeated the story police fed them, the story police guided them to regurgitate.
One striking similarity in their stories: Both implicated another young man named Jeremy Sargis in the crime. There is no shred of evidence suggesting Sargis was there or knew anything about the murder. He was just a random young man living in Idaho Falls in 1996 and Tapp’s friend.
Why would Tapp falsely implicate himself and his friend in a murder? He was threatened with the gas chamber if he didn’t confess and offered an immunity agreement for implicating others.
Osborne remembers police seeking to interrogate her when she was confined in the Behavioral Health Center. If she didn’t agree to speak with them, the next stop would be “big jail,” she remembers.
When police first suggested to Tapp that his friend Sargis may have been there, Tapp denied it and protested that surely he would remember that fact if it were true. But, with an immunity agreement on the table, and having been told that he had repressed memories that a polygraph could reveal like an oracle, he finally implicated Sargis.
And then he turned over his shoulder to ask his polygrapher if he had finally told the truth this time. Because if the polygrapher decided he was telling the truth, his immunity agreement would be secure, and he could finally go home. The polygrapher, in fact, said he was telling the truth. And then police tested Sargis’ DNA, and he wasn’t a match.
This is what renowned polygraph expert Charles Honts meant when he said the polygraph was used as a “psychological rubber hose” in this case.
Tapp served 20 years in prison. Osborne served 23 in a prison of guilt.
But in the years since Tapp’s release, forgiveness has brought a measure of healing to those Tapp’s conviction affected.
When Tapp was finally freed, Sargis — who had fled this community because he could no longer deal with the insinuations that he had something to do with the killing — returned to embrace Tapp.
And at the same time, Osborne told Tapp how she had come to testify falsely. And Tapp forgave Osborne.
If Sargis can forgive Tapp and Tapp can forgive Osborne, then not one person in this community has the right to hold an ounce of anger against Osborne on their behalf. Rather, we should follow Tapp’s and Sargis’ examples.
That does not mean there is no reason to be angry about what happened in this case — there is plenty. This case has torn many lives here asunder.
If the scales of justice in this community are to be placed back into balance, there must be a reckoning.
The question is: Who is accountable for what happened in this case?
Not Destiny Osborne. Not a frightened teenager.
Whoever is accountable, they had much more power, and far greater responsibility, than her.