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Wrongful conviction bill makes it out of committee

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Chris Tapp when he was released from prison in 2017. | EastIdahoNews.com file photo

BOISE — Following the testimony of two innocent men who sent to prison, the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act is one step closer to being the law.

Charles Fain, who was exonerated in 2001 of the 1982 murder of a 9-year-old girl, and Christopher Tapp, who spent 20 years behind bars and was finally exonerated in 2019 for the rape and murder of Angie Dodge, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Both men urged the committee to pass the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act.

Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, said the committee unanimously passed the bill during a hearing Thursday, sending it to the House floor for debate.

RELATED | New bill would offer relief to the wrongfully convicted

“We can’t restore the time that’s been lost,” Ricks said during the Tuesday hearing. “But we can try to do the best we can as a state to provide restitution and try to make this right.

The bill, sponsored by Ricks, would compensate a wrongfully convicted individual with $60,000 for every year they spent in prison and $75,000 per year a wrongfully convicted person spent on death row. The exoneree would be given that money in yearly $85,000 installments, though a judge could decide to give it all in one lump sum.

“Being in prison is as horrible as you can imagine, and being there when you are innocent is that much worse,” Tapp said in Tuesday’s hearing. “I was released from prison with nothing but my freedom. I had no financial resources, no way to rebuild my life or meet my daily needs.”

RELATED | Chris Tapp officially exonerated of rape and murder charges

Fain said the worst day of his life was when he was wrongfully convicted. He spent 17 and a half years in prison.

“I never planned to die there. I never planned my last words. I never planned any of that stuff. I always planned to walk out, and I did. And it’s a different world,” Fain said.

Ricks said Idaho is one of 15 states that do not have any legislation providing compensation to those wrongfully convicted.

“We make laws to protect society. And now it’s time to make a law to fix a wrong that we’ve done,” Ricks said.

Boise State professor and co-director of the Idaho Innocence Project Dr. Greg Hampikian said that he loves doing the work he does for the Innocence Project but “trembles” when someone is being released.

“When they get out, 20 years without a job, without family, your father’s dead, your mother’s dead — what are you going to do? How are you going to rebuild your life? The day they get out of prison, it’s all cameras, everybody’s smiling, it’s all great. A week later, life is miserable,” Hampikian said.

Now that the bill has passed the committee, it goes to the House floor, where representatives will debate the bill and vote whether to send it to the Senate.

RELATED | Good Question: How many innocent people go to prison?

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