What’s next for Chris Tapp? And Brian Dripps? Bonneville County Prosecutor answers those questions
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IDAHO FALLS — Now that Brian Dripps Sr. has been arrested for the rape and murder of Angie Dodge, questions remain about what’s next in the case and what happens with Christopher Tapp.
Dodge, 18, was brutally killed in her Idaho Falls apartment in 1996. Tapp was arrested for her murder and spent 20 years in prison. He was released in 2017 following the intervention of the Idaho Innocence Project. His DNA was not at the scene and Dripps told investigators he acted alone in the crime.
Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark sat down with EastIdahoNews.com reporter Nate Eaton to discuss the case. Here is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.
NATE EATON, EASTIDAHONEWS.COM: What happens from here?
DANIEL CLARK, BONNEVILLE COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Dripps had his initial appearance Monday. He was advised of the charges, his rights, and they’ll begin scheduling the upcoming hearings. The next process will be a preliminary hearing. On a case like this, that usually takes a couple months.
EATON: Explain what a preliminary hearing is.
CLARK: When someone is charged by a complaint, he has a right to challenge the evidence. This is where the state must show there is probable cause that he committed the crime. It’s kind of like a mini-trial.
EATON: As a prosecutor, the fact that you apparently have a confession and a DNA match, is this like a slam dunk case for you?
CLARK: I can’t speak about any of the evidence as it relates to Mr. Dripps. He has the constitutional right as a fair trial. I’ve got to make sure and adhere to that and make sure others do as well. So my comments will be limited. There is some evidence that is part of the public forum and we made sure that information was in the probable cause statement and that’s public record. So there are some things that are known but any specific details or commentary to him – I just don’t want to go into that.
EATON: This is a case that would qualify for the death penalty. Have you thought about whether you’re doing to pursue that?
CLARK: Sure. We have thought about it. I have to make that decision 60 days after his arraignment in district court. That will be done with a lot of thought and consideration, probably most specifically about what the victim’s family would like to see. At this stage on a case like this, the victim’s family ought to have a lot of say in that matter so we’ll certainly be in consultation with them in that regard.
Often times, as I have done in the past, we’ll file the notice of intent to seek the death penalty because that has to be done so early on in the case. Later on, we may decide not to. So often times we have to let folks know we might (pursue the death penalty) only to change that later on.
EATON: Where were you when you found out Dripps had been arrested and, according to the probable cause, confessed to the crime?
CLARK: This has been in the works for a while. I was informed last Friday they had gotten a sample. I was informed a week ago Saturday night it was a match. Everybody was pretty excited. We got together a week ago Monday and they put together a tactical plan. I was in Boise at the time of the interview. When the takedown occurred, I met the detectives at the law enforcement building in Caldwell.
During the interview, there was a video feed and my chief deputy John Dewey and I were sitting in the video room watching the video play out.
EATON: Your reaction to the fact that this finally happened?
CLARK: It’s great. There have been so many unanswered questions about this case. And it doesn’t matter what part of the Tapp question you’re on or anything else. The fact we’ve gotten to this point is just wonderful for the Dodge family and that’s the priority. We have got more answers today then we have had in the past and that’s a wonderful place to be.
I adopted this case 19 years into its existence. I’ll be honest. The last few years I wondered if we’d ever get to this point. Dripps’ DNA was not in any kind of database, which is pretty surprising. I think now, for the first time, we’re at a place where this case can actually come to a conclusion. The things that were done with Tapp a few years ago were not a conclusion both on Mr. Tapp’s case as well as the Dodge homicide.
EATON: You mentioned the fact that his DNA isn’t in any database. One would imagine that to commit a crime this horrific, he would have possibly done this elsewhere.
CLARK: I’ve got no evidence to that effect and certainly there’s nothing on this case that is ever going to surprise me in terms of how something could or should play out. The fact of the matter is he was not in any felony DNA database. He hasn’t been convicted of any crime like this.
EATON: You agreed to release Chris Tapp was from prison two years ago.
CLARK: Well, you had his attorney, John Thomas, (and) you had those advocacy groups that were pushing to that end and they raised a lot of good questions. They really did. We were in a difficult spot at the time because the legal standard for me to review, at that point, is was there clear and convincing evidence of innocence. At that point, there just wasn’t. It was just opinions. Certainly there was a lot of questions raised and I’m not going to suggest otherwise.
Based on that, we came to a conclusion where we gave a level of finality to the various pending issues Tapp had going on and I’d hoped, maybe just in my own mind, that we could refocus the energy back toward Angie and the homicide rather than simply dealing with him.
I will tell you – watching the police department work this case up to and including what was done over the past couple weeks was just phenomenal. Just phenomenal work. I’ve seen them focus on – we don’t care what answers were given, we simply want to get the truth. That was as refreshing as I’ve seen. They’ve worked it hard. You just can’t give them enough credit. I think we’re finally at a place where this is going to come to some conclusions and I’m excited about that.
EATON: Chris Tapp still has on his record a murder conviction. What happens now with him?
CLARK: There may be some legal things that go on with regard to his folks. I don’t know at this point. I will tell you what I can do or not do. Right now, we’re going to go through the process of vetting the information. As everyone is aware, Mr. Dripps said he acted alone. I think I have an obligation to ensure that information is accurate. If there’s ever a case to stand for the proposition that we ought to vet folks’ statements, it’s certainly this one. We’re going to do that process. I expect that to be done very quickly. Both the chief and I have dedicated manpower to answering that.
An ethical obligation for a prosecutor is that if there is clear and convincing evidence of innocence, the prosecutor must seek to remedy that conviction. If that turns out to be the case, that’s my obligation going forward regarding Mr. Tapp.
EATON: If that’s what you find, you could exonerate him over the next couple weeks and it’s wiped off his record. Does he then have the option to possibly sue the state?
CLARK: Whether he sues the city or not is not my concern. My obligation is if his conviction is justified, fine. If it is not, I must remedy it. That’s my obligation and that’s what I’ll do. Whether it has any side effects from it is not an issue for me to consider.
EATON: Is there anything you want to add?
CLARK: There are people that have been on various sides of this question for a long time and it’s very understandable in their own right. I don’t have any such luxury of being dedicated to one opinion or another.
At the end of the day, I simply have to do what the evidence tells me to do. Over the course of my experience, we got an investigation done on it and we reached an agreement to get Tapp out of jail. A lot of people weren’t happy about that. Certainly the thing that happened a couple of years ago no one loved. I think I said at the time it was a pragmatic solution to an ideological problem. But it came to a stoppage so we could refocus on the case. I think that’s been done so I’m pleased with that.
The truth, the evidence is going to dictate whatever decisions I make. If they exonerate, Mr. Tapp then so be it. That’s what society demands from our system and we’ve got to get it right. Even if it’s been done wrong, it’s got to be done right.