The results of new DNA testing in the 1996 murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge are back.
All of the DNA samples which could be sequenced point back to the still-unknown man who left semen, hair and skin cells at the crime scene. There has been no match to Chris Tapp, who is currently imprisoned for Dodge’s murder, or to Ben Hobbs, a man who police suspect was involved in the killing but has never been charged.
The samples come from swabs taken of Dodge’s hands, the T-shirt and sweatpants she was wearing at the time of her murder and a teddy bear found near her body.
John Thomas, Tapp’s public defender, said he was unsurprised by the results. And he said the fact that DNA found on the hand swabs does not match Tapp proves that his confession was false, since Tapp said during that confession that he held down Dodge’s hands.
“It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind that he was not there,” Thomas said. “His DNA has never been found on any piece of evidence at the crime scene.”
Former FBI supervisory special agents, false confession experts, a DNA expert and a polygraph expert have all in the past two years produced reports concluding that Tapp’s confession was false, the product of psychological coercion by police.
Bonneville Prosecutor Danny Clark said the samples also contained trace amounts of DNA from other males, but not enough to develop a DNA profile.
DNA and fingerprints from other males who were cleared of involvement in the crime, such as Dodge’s former boyfriend, have previously been found at the scene.
Clark declined to speak about what the new evidence means, since Tapp’s conviction is currently subject to litigation. But he said he would support further DNA testing.
“We stipulated to this testing,” he said. “We’ll continue to do that any time there’s testing available to do.”
Tapp has two active motions for post-conviction relief. One argues that some pieces of exculpatory evidence weren’t turned over to the defense at the time of trial, and the other has sought testing of previously untested DNA samples.
The argument of the second motion is that if Tapp were present at the scene of the murder, his DNA should turn up somewhere. And if it doesn’t turn up, then it’s hard to believe that Tapp was involved in the Dodge murder.
“We’re going to ask the court to overturn the conviction based on the new DNA evidence, which shows that Chris Tapp’s confession was false,” Thomas said.
Some of the tests used a relatively new DNA collection system called M-Vac, which uses a sprayer and a high-pressure vacuum to retrieve DNA which couldn’t be retrieved by older systems. According to a video put out by the company which makes the system, M-Vac has been used to solve cold cases, such as the murder of a Utah girl who was killed with a rock. While previous DNA collection systems hadn’t found the killer’s DNA on the rock, M-Vac was able to collect a sample that led to the killer’s conviction.
Meanwhile, Twin Falls private investigator Stuart Robinson, who has been tasked with re-examining the Tapp conviction along with expert reports from wrongful conviction organizations, says he is continuing to investigate the case. But he can’t give a specific date when he expects to release his report.
Robinson, who was given the assignment July 10, 2015, said he had hoped to be finished by now, but the investigation has taken longer than anticipated. Robinson said he hopes to release his report by the end of July, barring major new developments in the case.
Tapp has spent 7,093 days in jail or prison. On August 19, 2017, he will have spent half his life behind bars.
“He’s innocent,” Thomas said.
Tapp’s first parole hearing is 10 years away. By the time of that hearing, he will be 49.