Tapp thankful his mom knows ‘this last name is clean’ after he’s exonerated for crimes he did not commit
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IDAHO FALLS — The most important thing, Christopher Tapp said, was he wanted to clear his name for his mother.
That wish became real during a 30-minute court hearing in Bonneville County on Wednesday afternoon and, after more than 20 years, Tapp was exonerated for a rape and murder he did not commit.
He spoke for a few minutes, sat down, and his mom, Vera Tapp, walked forward and kissed her son on the back of his head. Tapp started to cry and, moments later, Judge Alan Stephens delivered the news.
WATCH: Chris Tapp learns he has been exonerated
“Mr. Tapp, as far as this court is concerned, you are innocent of the convictions that you’ve been living under for the past 20-plus years,” Stephens said. “I don’t think any of could imagine what it would be like to experience imprisonment for something we didn’t do. I’m just glad it could be corrected at this time.”
A packed courtroom of people burst into applause as Tapp hugged family members, his attorneys and others. Friends wearing shirts with the words “Innocent” and “We Told You So” high-fived Tapp, and Angie Dodge’s mother, Carol Dodge, wiped tears from her eyes as she embraced the man she had tirelessly helped in the past decade to clear his name.
“I’m thankful I’ve been given this second chance at life,” Tapp said. “I’ve wasted 20 years of my life for something I never did. … I’m thankful that my mother will know that this last name is clean. That’s the most important thing to me in this world.”
Tapp was convicted in 1998 for the rape and murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge. The then-20-year-old was sentenced to serve 20 years to life in prison, and over the years, he tried multiple times to appeal the conviction. Tapp’s DNA did not match that of DNA left at the crime scene, and serious questions were raised about his confession to Idaho Falls Police detectives.
Tapp’s attorney, John Thomas, spent 12 years working with the Idaho Innocence Project and the Innocence Project in New York City to shed light on the case. Attorneys with both organizations were present at the hearing.
“Christopher is the 367th person to be exonerated by DNA nationwide, and a staggering 28 percent of people who have been proven innocent with DNA made false confessions during interrogations,” said Innocence Project attorney Vanessa Potkin.
Tapp was released from prison in March 2017 after serving 20 years. He entered into an agreement with Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark that stipulated the first-degree murder charge would remain on Tapp’s record, but the rape charge would be dismissed.
In May 2019, through the help of genetic genealogy, Idaho Falls Police were led to 53-year-old Brian Dripps, a Caldwell man whose DNA matched that of DNA left at the crime scene. Dripps was arrested and confessed to killing Dodge alone, according to court documents.
After Dripps’ confession, Clark filed a motion to exonerate Tapp.
“In my view, there is clear and convincing evidence that (Tapp) was convicted of a crime for which he did not commit,” Clark said. “Based upon that, we’re going to move to vacate the jury verdict and dismiss the case.”
“Today is a day of healing,” said Angie Dodge’s brother, Brent Dodge, during the hearing. “Chris, 20 plus years ago, became the face of our pain when he was convicted. All of our energy and hatred and all those ugly feelings became Chris’ face. Chris is a free man today. He’s no longer the face of our pain. There is wisdom and truth in the statement that the truth sets us free, and certainly, that’s Chris’s end goal today.”
Thomas spoke of the opportunities Tapp lost during his two decades of imprisonment.
“Chris missed some of the best years of his life,” Thomas said. “Chris Tapp and his family have put their lives on hold. How would we feel if we missed 20 birthdays, 20 summers, 20 Thanksgivings and Christmases? How would we feel if we missed our own father’s funeral, as Chris did while he was incarcerated for a crime he had nothing to do with? Chris missed some of the best years of his life.”
Thomas declined to comment on if he and his client will file a lawsuit for Tapp’s wrongful imprisonment, but he did say they are seeking restitution for money Tapp paid into the victim’s compensation fund, about $2,600.
He called this a “monumental day” for Tapp and his family.
“He gets his rights back, he gets his good name back and the ability to hold his head up high in the face of this community,” Thomas said. “There’s no way Angie would want an innocent man to rot in prison because of the dastardly deeds of a handful of individuals.”
After the hearing, folks outside cheered Tapp as he left the courthouse.
He said he plans to move forward with his life and try to put this nightmare behind him.
“I’m now able to feel better about myself. It’s an amazing feat to feel this way, and one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” he told EastIdahoNews.com. “My future is bigger and brighter.”
WATCH our interview with Tapp following his exoneration