Outside expert to look into 1996 killing, subsequent conviction in eastern Idaho

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Southeastern Idaho officials have approved spending up to $25,000 for an independent investigation into the 1996 slaying of an 18-year-old woman and subsequent conviction of a man whose guilt has come into question.

The Post Register reports (http://www.postregister.com/node/65969) that the Bonneville County Commission on Wednesday approved a request from Bonneville County Prosecutor Bruce Pickett to hire an independent investigator.

The decision follows reports from Judges for Justice that cites flaws in the Idaho Falls Police Department's investigation into the rape and killing of Angie Dodge.

"I feel I do not have sufficient information at this point to proceed with any formal legal action," Pickett said. "However, due to the nature of the allegations and the questions raised by the reports, the Bonneville County prosecuting attorney's office requests funds be made available to hire an independent expert."

Christopher Tapp was convicted of the killing and sentenced to life in prison. But Judges for Justice said he was coerced by police into making a false confession after being threatened with prison or death, and offered potential deals for immunity.

Tapp has long maintained he didn't kill Dodge.

"I think it's a good move for the county," said Tapp's public defender, John Thomas. "I think it shows good faith on the part of the prosecutor."

"I think it sounds like a reasonable thing to do," said retired Judge Mike Heavey, co-founder of Judges for Justice. "I think a lot of people would have put their head in the sand like an ostrich."

Pickett said he will conduct a nationwide search for someone "not previously involved in the case, with no prior knowledge of the facts." He also said the person would have experience in crime scene reconstruction, suspect interviews and homicide investigations. It's not clear when the outside expert will be hired.

Carol Dodge, Angie Dodge's mother, has said she believes Tapp is innocent. She attended the commission meeting.

"I think that it's a great idea, and it benefits Chris," she said. "He's been in prison for (18) years. And there is absolutely no scientific, physical evidence putting him there at the crime scene. The only thing that puts Chris there is his confession."

She said she shared a common pain with Christopher Tapp's mother, Vera Tapp, who declined to comment.

"Here you have two mothers, and we have similar situations, all caused by the same situation," Carol Dodge said. "I lost my daughter, my only daughter. And Vera Tapp lost her only son. So that makes us equal. Will she ever see justice in her lifetime? Will I ever see justice in my lifetime?"

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

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