A decades-old Idaho case resulted in a grave injustice, according to the conclusions of two reports released by the non-profit, Judges for Justice, which investigates suspected wrongful convictions. In 1998, Chris Tapp was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering Angie Dodge, 18. The Judges for Justice reports were completed by Steve Moore, a retired FBI special agent, who formerly led investigations into Al-Qaeda, and Gregg McCrary, a retired special agent, who formerly trained FBI agents in interrogation techniques. Moore’s 85-page report is a scathing review of the Idaho Falls Police Department’s work. It found that Tapp’s confession was demonstrably false, or obtained by threats of severe sentences partnered with promises of mercy, and that the physical evidence does not match the law enforcement conclusions.
“In the final analysis,” Moore concluded, “the actions of the IFPD detectives in this matter, even if well-intentioned, were egregious. In their zeal, they abandoned even the most basic investigative cautions and proceeded on a course charted by their uninformed hunches, not the evidence.… In the end, the failure of this investigation has resulted in freedom for a vicious murderer, the incarceration of an innocent man for 18 years, and it has denied Angie Raye Dodge the justice she deserves.”
Bonneville County Prosecutor Bruce Pickett said his office is currently reviewing the new reports, “We have an obligation…to Mr. Tapp and to the citizens…to go back and review it. If we think it is a credible report, then we have the obligation to…at that point make a decision as to which is the best course of action.”
The reports were the result of eight months of investigation. The two original detectives on the case, who elicited the confession, Ken Brown and Jared Fuhriman did not respond to media requests for interviews. Fuhriman went on to become mayor of Idaho Falls after he retired from the police force. The victim’s mother, Carol Dodge, has long supported Tapp’s innocence.
The new report is the most comprehensive look at the case in 18 years.
“These individuals did this investigation out of the goodness of their hearts and because they want justice for all,” Dodge said, “(Judges for Justice) had nothing to gain, but by exposing the truth about their findings, it is possible that the real killer can be found and prosecuted.”
In the late 90s, Dodge’s murder quickly went cold after several weeks of good investigative work, said Mike Heavey, a retired judge who co-founded Judges for Justice. Benjamin Hobbs was arrested for rape in Nevada, shortly after the case went cold. “Ben Hobbs was a good suspect,” Heavey said. The detectives quickly concluded that Hobbs was the killer, so they stopped looking for other suspects and began to work to extract a confession from him, Moore stated in his report. There was only one glaring issue:
“There was not one piece of credible evidence, physical, circumstantial or testimonial of Hobbs’ involvement in the Dodge murder. It existed only in the minds of the IFPD detectives,” Moore wrote.
Hobbs was never charged in the case, but served time for the Nevada rape. Hobbs’ friend Chris Tapp was brought in by police and after several days of interrogation, he said that he and Hobbs committed the Dodge murder.
“This is a false confession,” interrogation expert McCrary wrote, “The authorities manipulated Mr. Tapp through a series of explicit threats and promises, used false evidence ploys, asked a host of leading questions and continually contaminated the interrogation by disclosing non-public details of the crime and the crime scene, all of which was improper.”
In order to properly verify whether a confession is accurate, police find in it “single source information”. That is information that only the killer could know. To do this, police keep some information non-public to ensure that no one can convincingly confess just by reading media reports. This information can include what the victim was wearing, where the victim’s body was found, what time the attack occurred, etc. This verifiable information is lost when detectives feed a suspect all or some of the non-public information. For example, interrogators characterized the murder scene as “sick” and Tapp simply parroted it back. Investigators told Tapp that Dodge was menstruating at the time of the murder and that she lived in an upstairs apartment, that she had been murdered at night, that her body was found lying face up, that there were stuffed animals in the room, and other key non-public details that could have helped catch the killer. They even went a step further by showing Tapp diagrams and sketches of the apartment’s layout as well as crime scene photos. Those photos showed Tapp, Dodge’s wounds which he then could repeat back accurately as if he committed them.
Of the 21 pieces of information police believe indicate Tapp had inside knowledge of the crime, 17 were fed to him by investigators, 3 were untrue, 7 were published by the media, and 4 were common knowledge around the community, Moore said.
Police interrogators also relied too heavily on a polygraph during the investigation. Moore said that the operator was unable to read the polygraph results competently. Detective Steve Finn, who administered the test, rendered it little more effective than flipping a coin, according to Moore, “This is far below professional standards and calls into question every single decision in this case made by polygraph.”
Besides all of that, parts of Tapp’s confession were simply inaccurate. He was wrong about the color of Dodge’s clothing, the position of her clothing, and the number of times he or Hobbs allegedly stabbed her. Tapp also contradicted himself when he was allegedly confessing.
Tapp at different times said Dodge was wearing black, red, gray, and blue clothing, none of which are accurate. Tapp said Dodge’s sweat pants had been removed from one of her legs, also incorrect. He also said Dodge was stabbed between 1 to 3 times, but she was stabbed 16 times.
Moore went on to say in his report that the physical evidence showed Tapp’s confession was false. Dodge’s body temperature was not taken by investigators, Moore said that would have allowed an accurate determination of time of death. Instead her body was almost immediately placed in refrigeration, “destroying the possibility of determining the time of the attack.” Taking a victim’s body temperature is “investigation 101”, yet they failed to do so, Moore compared this to “forgetting to take fingerprints.” Moore said that judging from the amount of urine in Dodge’s bladder she was murdered no earlier than 4 a.m. Tapp was with his roommate from 3 a.m. until later that morning.
During the interrogation, Tapp was shown a single-edged folding knife, he indicated that was the weapon used, but the autopsy showed that Dodge was killed by a double-edged knife.
Moore found the police theory of the crime, that Dodge was attacked by three men – Hobbs, Tapp, and an unknown accomplice – is inconsistent with physical evidence. The 6 x 10 ft. bedroom had little signs of a struggle. Moore also said that it is beyond belief that 3 men attacked Dodge, yet the only attacker to leave all the physical evidence – semen, hair, etc. – is the unknown attacker. Neither Hobbs nor Tapp could be linked to the scene or the crime.
“A fight with three men leaves hairs, skin cells, blood, fingerprints and other physical evidence for three men at the crime scene — not just one,” Moore said.
Moore’s investigation found that the likely killer lived near Dodge, knew where she lived, and knew she lived alone. He also knew how to enter the home undetected. The killer probably suffers from below-average IQ, subject to harsh discipline, and exhibits social inadequacies. He likely attacked Dodge as a crime of opportunity due to the “blitz-style” attack launched on Dodge as she slept.
The Idaho Innocence Project has been involved in the case for at least 5 years. Sadly, in 2013, the IIP lost its federal funding and cannot take any more new cases. They are still working on their old cases.
In 2012, it was discovered that the police had withheld possibly exculpatory evidence. In scouring the neighborhood for witnesses, the police found a couple who lived near the murder scene who said that at around 3 a.m. a man knocked on their door. He was covered in blood, had gashes on his face, and rug burn on his chin. He asked the man, John Browning, if he could use his bathroom. Browning felt uncomfortable so he allowed the man to use his outdoor hose. The man proceeded to try to explain his injuries to Browning and his wife, Gentri without prompting. Browning recalled remarking to his wife that the man was searching for an alibi. Gentri remembered that the man drove a motorcycle that had speakers bungee-corded on the back. Tapp’s legal team showed a photograph of Jeff Smith to Browning’s wife and she identified him as the man she saw. Smith was mentioned as a suspect by police at least 10 times.
So far all of Chris Tapp’s appeals have been denied. He is serving a life sentence.
RELATED: Watch Dateline’s The Confession about the Angie Dodge murder and Chris Tapp’s confession.