- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Maybe Chris Tapp wants to freeze the moment, to stop time from slowly slipping away. In prison time is all he has, and all he has to lose. He has lost 6,510 days so far.

“You wonder all the time. What would it be like if he hadn’t got in the situation he’s in right now? What kind of person would he become? If he’d have kids. The things you’d be able to do that you can’t. I don’t have Thanksgiving. I don’t have Christmas,” Vera Tapp said, biting her lips, trying but failing to hold back tears.

Vera still lives in the home where she and her late husband, Payton, raised Chris, their only child. The mortgage once was paid in full, but she remortgaged the home to help pay defense attorneys. So she uses a portion of each check she earns serving school lunches at A.H. Bush Elementary School to pay down the loan.

So far, she said she has put about $100,000 into her son’s defense.

A LONG FIGHT

In 1998, Chris was convicted of the June 13, 1996 rape and murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge and received a sentence of 30 years to life. By the time he was convicted, he already had been in jail for more than a year.

He confessed after days of interrogation, during which he was told a polygraph indicated he was lying when he denied knowledge of the crime. He was threatened with the gas chamber or life imprisonment if he didn’t cooperate, and given promises of immunity if he did.

His DNA doesn’t match the DNA collected at the crime scene. No physical evidence places him there.

The only evidence against him is his own confession, which leading national experts claim was coerced.

The case has attracted the attention of a slew of wrongful-conviction organizations throughout the country, including the Idaho Innocence Project, New York Innocence Project, Center on Wrongful Convictions and Judges for Justice. They’ve all concluded he’s innocent.

So has Carol Dodge, Angie’s mother.

Recent reports by legal experts and retired FBI investigators have come to the same conclusion: Chris was fed details of the crime by detectives during the interrogations, and he parroted them back in a bid for immunity.

Last month, in the wake of a recent wave of reports finding Chris had falsely confessed, Bonneville County Prosecutor Bruce Pickett received $25,000 from the county commission to fund an outside review the case. He is working to identify experts to conduct the review.

But the 18-year wait has shaken Vera’s faith.

“I believed in the justice system, but not anymore,” she said. “When I was growing up you thought the justice system really worked. But now I look at it and shake my head in bewilderment, and wonder where it’s all going to end.

“What is it going to take to get the people - the people who are supposed to do justice - to realize what is going on?”

AN IDAHO FALLS KID

Chris, 38, thinks of himself as “a born-and-raised Idaho Falls kid.” From around the age of 10, he lived in a small home on Dalmatian Drive.

“He was always happy-go-lucky and playful,” his mother said. “He liked to be around kids his own age.”

Chris attended Gethsemane Christian School, Ethel Boyes Elementary, Eagle Rock Middle School and Skyline High School. He grew up camping and fishing, taking trips to Salt Lake City with his parents, and riding with his father to look at loads of potatoes during spud harvest season. His father worked as a part-time produce seller after a heart attack left him incapable of full-time work.

Chris had trouble with drug and alcohol addiction, starting in middle school. After a year of high school, he dropped out.

“It broke my mom’s and dad’s heart,” he said in a Nov. 20 phone interview from prison in Kuna. “Everyone had big hopes and dreams, but I chose a whole different path. And it wasn’t the greatest path.”

In the years between dropping out of school and Angie’s murder, Chris said methamphetamine “pretty much controlled my life.” He tried to get clean. In 1996, he spent nearly a month at the Walker Center, an inpatient rehab facility in Gooding. But he relapsed.

WORD OF THE CRIME

Chris said Angie was a casual acquaintance, someone he knew from hanging around John’s Hole Bridge and the boat docks during the summer. He said he was at the bridge when he first heard of Angie’s murder from friends.

Vera remembers Chris coming home that day while she was watching an evening news story about the murder. She asked Chris whether he knew Angie. He said he did, but that she was not a close friend.

Chris first was contacted by police, he said, when officers asked him to give a DNA sample in October or November of 1996, several months after Angie’s murder. His father drove him to a lab.

Test would show Chris’ DNA did not match any of several biological samples that were left by a still-unidentified killer, including semen, hair and “touch DNA” evidence - skin cells left on an object after touching it.

On Jan. 7, 1997, officers asked Chris to come to the police station for an interview. He did so voluntarily.

“When I walked into the police department on that day, and they said, ‘We need to talk to you about the murder of Angie Dodge,’ I was floored. I was dumbfounded,” he said. “I was scared. I didn’t know what to do, except to be honest. And so I was honest with them at the start.”

Chris denied any involvement or knowledge of the crime, but detectives - particularly Jared Fuhriman, who later became mayor of Idaho Falls, and Ken Brown - pressured him to implicate Benjamin Hobbs, a friend who had been arrested for rape in Nevada. Hobbs is currently housed in the Lovelock Correctional Center, a medium security prison in Nevada, for the crime.

“The last time (Chris) came home, he was white as a sheet,” Vera said. “I asked him, ‘What’s going on?’ And he says, ‘Thing’s ain’t going my way. Things ain’t going right.’

“The world fell apart then.”

IN THE INTERROGATION ROOM

Chris had known Fuhriman for years.

Fuhriman had been the resource officer at Eagle Rock, and when Chris went on to Skyline, Fuhriman became the resource officer there. Fuhriman had given Chris tickets for smoking cigarettes while under age, but Chris said the officer also had seemed concerned about him, saying things such as, “You can’t be doing this to yourself.”

In the interrogation room, Chris said Fuhriman used that relationship to manipulate him.

“I was getting scared,” he said. “I was getting to the point where I just wanted to give the police whatever they wanted. They were pretty adamant about saying, ‘Ben was there. Just tell us, and we can help you.’”

Multiple efforts to reach Fuhriman or Brown for comment have been unsuccessful.

Chris was told he could spend the rest of his life in prison or be sent to the gas chamber. He was offered an immunity agreement and began implicating suspects whose names were given to him by the police.

Maintaining his innocence, Chris voluntarily submitted to a series of polygraph tests.

“They said I was being truthful when I said (one man, who was later cleared) was there, which was a bald-faced lie that came from the police,” he said. “They said I was being truthful when I said (another man) was there, my best friend. And then when they investigated it, (he) was at work that night.”

And when DNA tests didn’t match Hobbs, Chris or any of the others he had implicated, Chris said he felt the detectives shift their focus to him.

“We played more hypotheticals than I ever had in my life: ‘Hypothetically, if you were there and you held her down, that’s OK. We can still get you this agreement Chris. Hypothetically, if you did cut her, we can still get you this agreement.’”

And Chris confessed, saying he had held Angie down and slashed her breast, while others raped and killed her.

Later, outside investigators would conclude Chris’s confession contained no true details of the crime except what was fed to him by the police or what was common knowledge at the time. False confession expert Steve Drizin called it the “most contaminated and least corroborated” confession he had seen in his 15 years investigating wrongful convictions.

Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern University, also is legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. He has written books and academic journal articles on the topic, as well as served as an expert trial witness.

PRISON

Locked in jail for more than a year while his case was proceeding, Chris was terrified of going to prison.

“I was scared because during the county jail experience you meet a lot of people who have been to prison. You talk to people,” he said. “They were telling me what prison was going to be like for me. I was on a murder case. I was on a rape case.”

And having implicated several other people in the crime, he knew he also could be branded a “rat.”

After sentencing, Tapp was sent to a maximum security prison, where he remained for three years, until he worked off enough “points” to be sent to a medium security facility.

He couldn’t be there for Vera when his father died 14 years ago. He said he has lost most of his friends.

Today, Vera tries to visit him once a month during the summer.

“During the winter he doesn’t like me going because of the weather,” she said. “He doesn’t want me getting in a wreck or anything.”

But Tapp said he is not the one who has lost the most.

“I’ve lost a lot, but that’s something that I don’t want to talk about,” he said. “Everything I’ve lost doesn’t compare to what’s been taken from Carol.”

For 18 years Carol Dodge has yearned for closure in Angie’s death all the while searching for her daughter’s killer.

For 18 years the Tapps have fought to prove Chris’ innocence. They’ve appealed the case to the Idaho Supreme Court, filed three civil suits for post-conviction relief and a federal writ of habeas corpus, all to no avail. But recently, thanks in large part to Carol Dodge, who has convinced national experts to review the case, there is cause for hope.

Tapp said his biggest hope is that he gets the chance to show he is a good person: “I’ve got to prove that I was worth something, not some person to be thrown away.”

Vera believes he’ll get that chance.

“I have faith. I believe, sooner or later, he’ll come home,” she said.

___

Information from: Post Register, https://www.postregister.com


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