IDAHO FALLS — Christopher Tapp is expected to be exonerated during a court hearing Wednesday afternoon in Bonneville County. He served 20 years in prison for the murder and rape of Angie Dodge – crimes authorities now say he did not commit.
Here’s a look at the case from 1996 until today.
Who was Angie Dodge?
Angie Raye Dodge was born December 21, 1977 in Vancouver, Washington to Jack and Carol Dodge. She was the youngest of four children and their only daughter.
She was a gifted child with amazing intelligence and a great enthusiasm for life. She began her preschool education in San Diego, California and continued on with school in Idaho Falls. Throughout her high school years, she tutored many young children in Math and English. She graduated from Idaho Falls High School in 1995 with honors and continued her education at Idaho State University for a short period of time.
She loved nature, camping, holidays, Christmas parties and spending time with her family and friends.
Carol Dodge, Angie’s mother, recalls the last time she spent time with her daughter the night before she was murdered.
“While chatting with Angie I recall reaching out to give her a hug and she leaned her head on my shoulder as we rocked back and forth as if we were dancing,” Carol wrote. “I whispered to her that she would always be my baby and told her how much I loved her. She replied, ‘I still wittle huh, Mommy!’ She always said ‘wittle’ instead of little for it was her way of saying that she would always be my baby…She threw me a kiss and whispered, ‘I Love You’ as I did her. Neither of us knew it would be our last moments in time.”
Angie Dodge was 18-years-old and living in her first apartment at 444 I Street in Idaho Falls. In the early hours of June 13, 1996, between 12:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., Angie was raped and brutally murdered. Her body was discovered by two coworkers who were concerned that Angie had not come to work that morning.
The Idaho Falls Police Department began investigating. Evidence collected at the scene, interviews with people who knew or had seen Angie that night, and tips from that time suggested that one or more people participated in the crime.
Investigators were able to collect semen and hairs left at the scene. DNA testing available at the time showed that the samples collected belonged to the same unknown suspect.
Chris Tapp arrested & convicted
In January 1997, 20-year-old Christopher Tapp became a suspect in the case. Although his DNA did not match crime scene samples, the Idaho Falls Police Department had a theory that multiple people, including Tapp, may have been involved in Angie’s death.
Tapp was interviewed by police and, after hours of questioning, he confessed to being involved in the rape and murder. Serious questions were later raised about the confession as videotapes appeared to show Tapp being coerced into confessing.
Tapp was convicted in 1998 by a jury in Bonneville County. Years later, he attempted to appeal the conviction. In July 2001 the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. Tapp also filed several Post Conviction Relief Petitions between 2002 and 2015. All but one was dismissed.
Carol Dodge’s fight
Through the past 23 years, Carol Dodge has fought tirelessly for her daughter. Carol has met with dozens of investigators and taken a very active role in the pursuit of answers. She has conducted her own research, contacted experts and done all she can to keep a light shining on Angie’s case.
Just months ago, she told EastIdahoNews.com that she was meditating one day and vocally expressed her frustrations about her daughter’s murder.
“I was saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore, Angie. I’ve gone as far as I can go,’” Dodge said. “And I just felt her there saying, ‘You’re almost there, Mom.’ ”
Chris Tapp released from prison
Tapp was released from prison in March 2017 after serving 20 years. His attorney, John Thomas, and the rest of his legal team entered into an agreement with Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark. It stipulated the first-degree murder charge would remain on Tapp’s record, but the rape charge would be dismissed. He would be resentenced to serve 20 years for the murder but get credit for time served. Tapp would give up all rights to appeal.
“I’m just grateful for everything,” Tapp said that day. “It feels different to not have handcuffs on. I want to prove to everybody that I can be something and do something right.”
WATCH: Chris Tapp’s first extended interview after being released from prison
The DNA at the scene
The Idaho Falls Police Department has continued to search for the killer who left DNA at the scene. Over the years, IFPD has sought assistance from special task forces, the FBI, the attorney general’s office and multiple specialists to help identify suspects.
In 2016, IFPD asked for assistance from Francine Bardole and the West Jordan Police Department in Utah. Investigators hoped that by utilizing WJPD’s M-Vac Forensic DNA Collection System, a DNA extraction tool, to retest evidence collected at the scene additional “touch DNA” may be procured, leading to the identification of other suspects.
In 2017, the Idaho Falls Police Department sought the services of Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that specializes in advanced DNA analysis services.
Using the DNA evidence left at the crime scene, Parabon produced trait predictions for the unknown suspect. Individual predictions were made for his ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape. By combining these attributes of appearance, a Snapshot composite was produced depicting what the suspect may have looked like at 25 years old and with an average body-mass index (BMI) of 22.
In November 2018, IFPD Investigators partnered with Parabon for the newest advancement in criminal DNA testing: genetic genealogy. Genetic genealogy uses advanced DNA testing in combination with innovative genetic analysis, sophisticated identification techniques and traditional genealogical methods to establish the relationship between an individual and their ancestors.
“When my team at Parabon received this sample that was extremely degraded genetic genealogy had never been done in a suspect case with such a degraded sample,” said CeCe Moore, Genetic Genealogist from Parabon Labs. “So it was extremely challenging.”
Moore has said that under normal circumstances, she and Parabon would not have taken this case because of the degraded sample. However, after speaking with Carol Dodge, Moore committed to try.
Moore and Parabon submitted a genetic data profile created from the crime scene DNA sample to a public genetic genealogy database for comparison in hopes of finding individuals who shared significant amounts of DNA with the unknown subject.
They utilized other information to narrow down the possibilities before a final list of six possible leads was produced. The science showed that DNA collected from just one of the individuals on this list, even if it wasn’t a match to the DNA at the 1996 crime scene, would lead to the further identification of the suspect DNA.
IFPD set out to collect a DNA sample from one of these six people. The closest lead was living in Twin Falls and in February, investigators took a team of detectives to hunt for DNA.
With detectives watching, the subject stepped out of a building and spit out a wad of chewing tobacco before getting in his car and driving away. Investigators quickly collected the tobacco, hoping it would contain enough DNA for an analysis.
Those samples were sent to a private lab who expedited the results. That DNA profile came back as a negative match to the DNA left at the 1996 crime scene, which was disappointing but not unexpected. Investigators still hoped further analysis could identify one of the remaining five men as the suspect and the DNA profile was sent to Parabon for analysis.
Brian Dripps arrested
Moore’s genetic genealogy analysis indicated that the suspect to whom the crime scene DNA belonged was more distantly related to the person whose DNA was collected in Twin Falls than had been expected. The analysis suggested that based on the remaining five people of interests’ position on the familial tree, it was unlikely that one of them could be the donor of the crime scene DNA.
Moore and her team at Parabon were able to find an obituary in the digital records of a small library across the country. The obituary was for a woman whose daughter had been briefly married into the familial tree indicated by the genetic genealogical analysis. The marriage had ended before any children had been born, causing Parabon and IFPD to believe that this branch of the tree had died off and therefore could not produce further suspects.
The obituary listed that this woman had a son who was born after the divorce to the male in the suspect family line but before her second marriage. The child had the DNA of the familial line indicated by Parabon’s genetic genealogy analysis, but had been raised under his step father’s surname – Dripps.
“We originally had it narrowed down to about six men,” Moore said. “But it turned out there was a seventh and that was Brian Dripps [Sr.]. It took perseverance to find out that he even existed, and our wonderful officers and investigators to take it across the finish line.”
Idaho Falls Police Detective Sage Albright found information that indicated Dripps had been living in the area at the time of the murder. An old pawn receipt and archived utility records showed his address as 459 “I” Street in Idaho Falls from April 3, 1996 to August 2, 1996. 459 “I” Street is directly across the street from 444 “I” Street, the apartment where Angie had been living and was killed.
“It became pretty clear that this might be the person we are looking at,” said Chief Johnson. “At that point the investigation really kicked into hyper drive.”
On Aug. 2, 1996 Dripps left Idaho Falls. A 1999 divorce proceeding in Canyon County showed an address in Caldwell and recent records suggested Dripps was still living in that area.
Investigators traveled to Caldwell in May 2019 and began surveillance on Dripps. After 20 hours, detectives saw him discard a cigarette butt out of the window of his vehicle. As soon as Dripps had moved on, an undercover IFPD detective rushed into traffic to recover the cigarette butt.
The sample was rushed to the Idaho State Lab in Boise and compared Brian Dripps Sr.’s DNA on the cigarette butt to the DNA found in the semen and hairs left at the crime scene.
On Saturday, May 11, after nearly 23 years and over 100 DNA samples, the results came back positive for the first time. Brian Leigh Dripps Sr. was the confirmed DNA match to the semen and hair left at the Angie Dodge crime scene.
Dripps confesses to the crime
Brian Leigh Dripps Sr., 53, was arrested and charged with murder and rape on May 15, 2019.
After initially denying being involved with the crimes, courts documents show he confessed and said he acted alone.
“He said that he intended only to rape her and did not mean to kill her,” according to the probable cause. “He confirmed that he entered Dodge’s apartment by himself with a knife with the intent to rape her, that he did in fact rape her, that he had held a knife to her throat during the commission of the rape and had cut her throat.”
Dripps is being held in the Bonneville County Jail and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 2.
Chris Tapp exonerated
On July 11, 2019, Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark filed a motion to exonerate Christopher Tapp.
“There exists clear and convincing evidence that (Tapp) was convicted of a crime he did not commit,” Clark wrote in a court filing. “Therefore, the state moves that the court grant post-conviction relief … set aside the jury verdict and vacate the judgment of conviction and dismiss (the) case.”
Tapp’s attorney filed a sixth petition “based on new evidence that Christopher Tapp is actually innocent.”
“New evidence has been discovered which negates the conviction” of Tapp, Bonneville County public defender John Thomas wrote in the court filing.
Tapp’s post-conviction relief hearing is set for 1 p.m. July 17 before Judge Alan Stephens.