The Last Full Measure of Malice: Bonneville County Seeks Plea Deal with Christopher Tapp (Updated, March 21, 2017)

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(See the update below)

Idaho Falls resident Christopher Tapp has spent more than two decades behind bars for a murder he did not commit. He was convicted on the basis of a confession extracted from him through psychological torture — a fact that even the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office has now grudgingly conceded. Now Bonneville County Prosecutor Danny Clark is reportedly seeking a face-saving plea bargain on the eve of a judicial hearing that would exonerate Tapp.

No physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connected Tapp to the scene of the June 1996 murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge. Idaho Falls Police Sergeant Jared Fuhriman, who was lead investigator, initially sought to bully Tapp into implicating a friend — either Jeremy Sargis, whose family had the means to arrange for legal representation, or Ben Hobbs, who had been arrested in Nevada for rape. All three of these young men were excluded as suspects by DNA evidence.

Rather than following the evidence to a plausible suspect, Fuhriman and his comrades at the IFPD made do with the suspect that they had, isolating the 20-year-old from his family, and arresting him after his mother tried to contact an attorney. Polygraph examiner Steven Finn, systematically lying to the victim, convinced Tapp that he was being “untruthful” in denying involvement in the murder, and that unless he offered a “truthful” confession he would face the death penalty. Only by admitting to a “limited” role in a crime committed by others, Tapp was told, could he save his own life.

Following a May 1998 trial replete with perjured testimony by Fuhriman and his colleagues, Tapp was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. At the time, Angie Dodge’s mother Carol believed firmly in Tapp’s guilt. Several years later, she examined the videotaped interrogations — and has now become the most passionate advocate for Tapp’s exoneration.

There are two separate appeals underway on Tapp’s behalf, both of which will be considered on April 25. The legal advocacy group Judges for Justice, which consists of retired judges, FBI investigators, and legal specialists, is preparing to present a detailed and overwhelming case for Tapp’s innocence. In doing so, they will place before the court, and the public, an equally voluminous case for decades of criminal misconduct by Fuhriman (who was subsequently elected Mayor of Idaho Falls), his associates in the Idaho Falls Police Department, and the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office.

Tapp has been relocated to the Bonneville County Jail in Idaho Falls in anticipation of next month’s hearing — which means that Prosecutor Danny Clark and his minions will have more than a month to manipulate him into a plea bargain, which would be a bookend to compliment the process through which he was seduced into a false confession in January 1997.

Twenty years ago, Fuhriman and his comrades wanted to close a murder case to avoid an institutional embarrassment. Now, they want to wring the last full measure of usefulness from their victim by having him accept a deal that will protect them at the cost of his exoneration.

In a letter to Tapp, Judge Michael Heavey advises him that deal that would likely involve an Alford Plea – under which he would assert his innocence while admitting that the prosecutor could prove his guilt in court. This would allow Tapp to be sentenced to the time he has already served, and perhaps a brief term of probation.

“If you accept an Alford deal, then you spent 20+ years in prison for nothing,” Judge Heavey explained. “Fuhriman wins, [former Bonneville DA Kip] Manwaring wins, [assistant prosecutor John] Shindurling wins, Finn wins…. Chris Tapp loses 20 years.”

Anything short of complete exoneration “is a big loss for you,” Heavey advised him. “The prosecutor’s office has done everything they can to keep you in prison for the rest of your life, they are not honorable people. They have the leverage, for about one more month…. Don’t give in, you are an innocent man.”

The wrongful conviction of Christopher Tapp is just one of several cases — such as the equally bogus double-murder conviction of Lanny Smith, and the utterly bizarre rape conviction of Michael Whiteley — demonstrating the deeply dysfunctional nature of Bonneville County’s criminal “justice” system. The Tapp case, however, poses the most acute risk to the county’s political class: It has received national publicity, the victim is still a young man, he has influential advocates (including the murder victim’s mother), and his exoneration would lead to a civil rights suit he would easily win.

This explains why the County is desperate to have Tapp sign a deal and seal up the matter before next month’s hearing. In the fashion of the inquisitor presiding over William Wallace’s torture at the climax of Braveheart, Prosecutor Danny Clark — like his colleagues, a conservative and pious man — are urging their victim to acknowledge their divine authority as a condition of being released from his agony.

Mr. Clark, hell is filled to the brim with pious men like you.

Update:The Bastards of Bonneville County Have (Apparently) Won

“A deal has been reached in the Christopher Tapp case,” reports today’s Idaho Falls Post-Register. Appellate attorney John Thomas, who will discuss the details of the arrangement today with prosecutor Danny Clark and Judge Alan Stephens in anticipation of a hearing tomorrow, says that Tapp will not admit guilt as part of the deal — which means, most likely, that the innocent man will take an Alford plea. This would mean immediate release from prison — but not from the underlying conviction. It would also protect Fuhriman and his accomplices in the kidnapping, torture, and theft of twenty years from Tapp.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan