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Gov. Little signs the Wrongful Conviction Act into law alongside Chris Tapp

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Gov. Brad Little signs the Wrongful Conviction Act into law Friday at the Bonneville County Courthouse. Alongside hi were Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, and Chris Tapp, a local man who spent 20-years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS — Idaho’s wrongfully convicted can now get compensated for the time they spent behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

Gov. Brad Little signed the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act into law at the Bonneville County Courthouse Friday afternoon. Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, brought the bill to this legislative session, working alongside Christopher Tapp; an Idaho Falls man exonerated in 2019 for the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge.

“This is a good bill, this is the right thing to do,” Little said. “As our justice process morphs over the years, unfortunately, there’s been people wrongfully convicted that are long gone now. This proposal, this legislation … it’s just one of those things that is good public policy.”

Friday marked the second time the legislator brought a wrongful conviction bill to the governor. Ricks tried passing the law in 2020, but Little vetoed that version of the bill with concerns on how parts of it would be paid for. Among the changes to the 2021 bill included the removal of a clause to cover medical insurance and tuition waivers for college credits.

“It’s for Chris Tapp, but it’s also for anybody else who’s in the same situation,” Ricks said. “This is the way the State can show some restitution, that we’re sorry and that we can provide some compensation for those that have been done wrong by the system.”

With the passing of the act, exonerees will receive a fixed sum of $62,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment or $75,000 for each year wrongfully served on death row. Those seeking compensation will go through a process in the courts to confirm their eligibility. Ricks has said legislators have identified six potential exonerees who meet the criteria. There are an additional four people who could meet the standards after legal processes continue.

Christopher Tapp speaks to reporters inside a courtroom that holds difficult memories as Gov. Brad Little signs the Wrongful Conviction Act into law | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

Over 20 years ago, investigators coerced a then 20-year-old Tapp into giving a false confession. Despite zero physical evidence to link Tapp to the crime, a jury convicted Tapp in 1998 and a judge ordered him to spend 30-years to life in prison. Tapp spent 20-years of his life behind bars before new DNA evidence cleared his name and investigators tied the crime to the real killer.

“This law will give wrongfully convicted people assistance to restart their lives,” Tapp said. “To help them get into the process of moving on from this nightmare we have endured and continue to experience. I appreciate we are here today in Idaho Falls, the scene of my wrongful conviction, but I also want to acknowledge Charles Fain who is back in Boise.”

Fain spent 18-years on Idaho’s death row for the 1982 murder of a 9-year-old girl before his exoneration in 2001. Since then the man now in his 70s has endured the struggle of finding a good job and making ends meet. Fain’s social security benefits are not enough to cover basic living expenses and he lives in a single room not much larger than the confines of his prison cell.

Greg Hampikian, Idaho Innocence Project co-director shares his thoughts on the signing of a bill to compensate the wrongfully convicted | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

“I knew that if they (the legislators) just heard from these men that they would be persuaded to do the right thing,” said Greg Hampikian, Idaho Innocence Project co-director. “It was unanimous in both (the House and Senate). To hear an exoneree speak, it changes your heart, it opens your eyes to what their lives are like.”

Idaho’s Wrongful Conviction Act adds the state to a list of 35 other states with legislation to compensate the wrongfully convicted.

“I just spoke on legislation on Wednesday in Oregon about compensation, so I’m not done,” Tapp said. “This is just the first step of me continuing on because this is a truly important thing that needs to be done for the wrongfully convicted. It’s truly important to know that people recognize we’ve been wrongfully convicted and this will be part of it.”

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