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Idaho Innocence Project Helps Exonerate Man Convicted of Murder

On Wednesday, July 17, Bonneville County Prosecutor Daniel Clark filed court documents to clear Christopher Tapp of the 1996 rape and murder of Idaho resident Angie Dodge. The same day, Tapp was officially exonerated in court, as Buzzfeed News reported, thanks in part to the Idaho Innocence Project at Boise State University.

“There exists clear and convincing evidence that [Tapp] was convicted of a crime he did not commit,” the filed documents stated. “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.”

Christopher Tapp served 20 years wrongfully convicted of murder and rape. Investigators in the case used the threat of execution to obtain a false confession. In exchange for immunity, Tapp implicated his friends, whom the police thought had committed the crime. When DNA evidence, including semen from the victim, did not match either Tapp or his friends, the immunity deal was rescinded and Tapp was charged and convicted of rape and murder.

In 2007, the Idaho Innocence Project pressed for new DNA testing in the Dodge murder. Working with the Idaho Falls Police Department and the victim’s mother, The Idaho Innocence Project used DNA genealogy to identify the family line of the mystery DNA donor.

On March 22, 2017, Tapp was freed at a hearing where he was represented by Bonneville County public defender John Thomas and Jennifer Cummins with the Idaho Innocence Project. Following his release, the Idaho Innocence Project and Idaho Falls Police Department continued to pursue DNA identification of Dodge’s assailant.  In 2019, CeCe Moore and Parabon Nanolabs used GEDmatch to confirm the lineage, then identified a suspect who matched the DNA. The suspect subsequently confessed to acting alone. This is the first genealogical DNA exoneration.

The Idaho Innocence Project then worked from 2008-2012 to successfully change Idaho’s DNA testing statute to allow Tapp and others to prove their innocence. Previously, the law only allowed testing within one year of conviction, a restriction baring all Idaho Innocence Project clients from DNA analysis. It was this change in the law that gave Tapp his day in court.

Many people and organizations have worked on Tapp’s case over the years, including several lawyers from the Idaho Innocence Project. The project was assisted by Cybergenetics and their TrueAllele software, and much of the DNA was processed by the M-Vac DNA extraction system. Tapp currently is represented by lead attorney Thomas, Cummins, and Peter Neufeld and Vanessa Potkin, also with The Innocence Project. Tapp also has been represented in past post-conviction actions by former Idaho Innocence Project lawyers Richard Visser and Jared Hoskins, Dennis Benjamin (with Nevin, Benjamin, McKay and Bartlett LLP), and Sarah Thomas, formerly of the Idaho State Appellate public defenders.

The false confession analysis included: Charles Honts, a polygraph and false confession expert, and professor of psychological science at Boise State; and Steven Drizen, a professor and expert at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law Center. Carole Dodge, mother of the victim, worked tirelessly with the Idaho Innocence Project and others to press for DNA testing in the case.