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Charles Fain, Idaho’s first compensation for wrongful conviction, 18 years on death row.

At 72 years old Charles Fain has finally received his declaration of innocence and financial compensation for 18 years in prison, wrongfully convicted of the sexual assault and murder of a child.  Fain spent most of those 6,745 days on Death Row. The Idaho Innocence Project (IIP) at Boise State University worked to clear Fain’s name, and help police find a DNA match to the evidence, since 2007. In 2020, with the help of IIP DNA expert, Dr. Greg Hampikian and Dr. Ed Green at UC Santa Cruz, Canyon County reported a DNA match to the evidence in the case and charged a new suspect.

Mr. Fain was freed in 2001 by his lawyers, the late Fred Hoopes, and Spencer McIntyre; but Idaho had no mechanism to declare him innocent, and no law to compensate. When he was freed, he received only a pair of dungarees and a jacket from the prison laundry, denied even the services normally provided for a guilty person upon release. In 2021, Idaho became the 36th state to pass compensation for wrongful convictions and created a certificate of innocence. The Governor’s signature on the law sponsored by Senator Doug Ricks and Representative Barbara Ehardt, concluded 14 years of work by IIP lawyers Robin Long and Rick Visser, with recent help from Elizabeth Powers of the Innocence Project in New York.

IIP clients Charles Fain and Christopher Tapp both testified several times about their experiences before the Idaho House and Senate hearings on the law. They are the first two Idahoans to receive certificates of innocence and compensation.  Tapp had been convicted of murder and rape, but the IIP worked with public defender John Thomas, the Idaho Falls police, the Innocence Project, and the victim’s mother Carol Dodge to find a DNA match to evidence from the crime. Tapp was freed in 2016, but the state did not remove his murder conviction until a new suspect was identified who matched the DNA evidence and confessed to acting alone. Brian Dripps was sentenced in that case on June 8th, 2021. Tapp was represented for his certificate of innocence and compensation by Robin Long of the IIP and pro bono attorneys from Neufeld, Scheck, and Brustin, LLP. The law requires that state compensation be subtracted from any future lawsuits against the state by the exonerees.

Mr. Fain was represented in his compensation petition by Robin Long and volunteer attorneys for Stole Rives, Wendy J. Olson and Andrea Carone, with help from Greg Silvey former legal Director of the IIP. When he received word of his compensation, Mr. Fain thanked the people of Idaho and asked them to remember the victim’s family. He said he plans to retire and buy a truck. “I’d like to live quietly, spend time outdoors, and hopefully see more of Idaho.”

Left to right: Charles Fain, Christopher Tapp, Robin Long, Greg Hampikian. At the Idaho Statehouse in 2020, after testifying about wrongful convictions. Photo from Idaho Innocence Project.