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Idaho Exoneree Fights for Wrongful Conviction Compensation

Despite being innocent of the crime, after intensive browbeating by cops, he pleaded guilty. This is not as uncommon as it may seem. A full 18 percent of exonerations arise from guilty pleas. [CLN, August 2019]

The victim’s mother, Carol Dodge, was never quite fully convinced of Tapp’s guilt in the death of her daughter Angie. In a surprising twist, it was Dodge who steered the exoneration efforts to genetic genealogist Cece Moore. Moore was able to use cutting-edge technology to resurrect remaining leftover DNA evidence in a highly degraded state to find a match between it and the killer on the DNA profile match company GED Match. The accused, Brian Leigh Dripps, Sr., pleaded guilty to the crime. [CLN, December 2019, p. 41]

A newly exonerated Tapp was freed from prison in 2017 to a new life — hard labor shoveling hot tar on a road crew. Idaho’s prison system, like most others, provides virtually nothing in the way of skills training or education for life-sentenced prisoners.

To make matters even worse, unlike the vast majority of states, Idaho has no wrongful conviction compensation statutes for surviving victims who are exonerated from their long, state-imposed nightmares.

There are three legal avenues open for exonerees to seek compensation for their wrongful convictions resulting in illegal imprisonment. The most common is statutory compensation, which Idaho does not offer. The least successful method is for the exoneree to lobby the legislature for a private bill. And then there is the avenue of a lawsuit.

Tapp decided to wait on the result of a pending wrongful conviction compensation bill wending its way through Idaho’s Legislature.

Both Tapp and exoneree Charles Fain, who spent 17 years on Idaho’s death row, testified before the Legislature regarding the need for a compensation statute. The bill passed the state’s House and Senate in a showing of bipartisan support in mid-March 2019. However, it was vetoed by Republican Governor Brad Jay Little on March 30, 2019.

Little cited “procedural flaws,” such as funding for health insurance and college tuition. Actual monetary compensation was to be $60,000 for each year in prison, $75,000 if the exoneree was on death row. Texas, the most carceral state in the nation, already has in place a remarkably similar bill and has no problems with the same items Little is so concerned about. [CLN August 2019]

Carol Dodge voiced her concerns to Little, stating, “I lost my only daughter to a brutal murder. There is nothing that will replace my losses. I cannot even begin to comprehend why you did such a thing [referring to Little’s veto]. Don’t you think the state of Idaho owes him something, a lot actually, for all the years that were wrongly taken from him?”

In July 2019, Tapp was working at a plastic bag manufacturing plant, married to a teacher with three children and was hoping to begin college classes soon. He has filed a formal notice of intent to sue Idaho Falls for wrongfully convicting him in violation of his 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. 


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