Thursday, February 4, 2016

Stolen Lives, Protected Criminals: The Wrongful Imprisonment of Christopher Tapp

This man belongs in prison: Former IFPD Detective, and I.F. Mayor, Fuhriman.
There are abundant reasons to be grateful that we do not live under the Old Testament “lex talonis” legal covenant, and one compelling reason to lament that this is so: Under the system of justice described in the Book of Deuteronomy, a lying police officer and corrupt prosecutor who falsely convicted an innocent man would be required to suffer the punishment intended for their victim.

Under that legal principle, former Idaho Falls Police Detective Jared Fuhriman and former Bonneville County District Attorney Kip Manwaring would be serving a sentence of 30 years to life for the wrongful murder conviction of Christopher Conley Tapp.
Former DA Manwaring.

Angie Dodge was murdered in her Idaho Falls apartment on or about June 13, 1996. The perpetrator entered the apartment without forcing entry, and was strong enough to overcome the determined resistance of an athletic woman who was six feet tall and weighed roughly 180 pounds (the victim’s body displayed “defensive wounds”). Although there was semen deposited on the victim’s upper torso, a post-mortem determined that she had not been raped. The crime scene evidence made it clear that this abhorrent act was carried out by a lone perpetrator. That evidence also excludes Christopher Tapp as a legitimate suspect. 

Tapp has been imprisoned for nineteen years -- nearly half his life -- for a murder he didn't commit, after being forced to confess through a month-long ordeal of protracted interrogation involving of threats and psychological duress. This is the conclusion of a non-profit activist organization called "Judges for Justice," a group of retired judges and criminal investigators who review suspected cases of wrongful conviction.

A newly released video documentary by the group, which is available on YouTube, analyzes the methods used by Idaho Falls Police Detective Jared Furhiman and his colleagues to suborn Tapp into ratifying false accusations against a friend -- and then to make a false confession. Somber in tone and devoid of sensationalism, the Judges for Justice documentary deserves at least as much attention as the Netflix investigative series “Making a Murderer.”

Tapp lived in the same neighborhood as the victim and considered her a friend. He also knew Ben Hobbs, the Idaho Falls resident selected by the IFPD as a suspect after he was arrested in Ely, Nevada for raping a woman at knife-point. When he was brought in for questioning, Tapp was told that he was being treated as a witness against Ben. However, a detailed critique by Judges for Justice investigator Gregg McCrary, a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent, points out that Detective Fuhriman and his associates treated him as a suspect from the very beginning. 

Tapp during an appeal hearing.

“Tapp was the subject of nine interrogations over three and a half weeks, for over 20 hours,” notes McCrary. “Detectives refused to accept Tapp’s repeated denials of involvement, arresting and jailing him when he did not implicate Hobbs, then releasing him when he did so.”

The method used to interrogate Tapp, commonly called the “Reid Technique,” has frequently been used to manipulate suspects into false confessions. Even so, Joseph Buckley, President of the John E. Reid & Associates consulting firm, emphasizes that interrogators taught to use this method are advised that “they should not try to talk a suspect into believing that they committed the crime.”

This is precisely what the IFPD investigators did under the direction of Detective Fuhriman. McCrary observes that Fuhriman and his comrades ran the table of methods expressly prohibited by the Reid Technique, such as “threatening inevitable consequences”; “making a promise of leniency in return for the confession”; “denying a subject their rights”; and “conducting an excessively long interrogation.” The only evidence against Tapp is the confession he has since recanted. An abundance of physical evidence was deposited by the killer at the scene, including semen, hair, fingerprints, and skin cells. None of it offers a match to Tapp. 

Carol Dodge, the mother of the murder victim, has spent decades trying to learn the truth about what happened to her daughter and has become one of Tapp’s most outspoken advocates – primarily because she wants investigators to identify and prosecute the man who actually committed the crime. On her own initiative and at her own expense, Mrs. Dodge collected and reviewed scores of hours of video-recorded interrogations, which left her convinced that Tapp had been railroaded -- and also left her mortified by the knowledge that her daughter's killer was left at large.

"I am at the mercy of the city of Idaho Falls and the prosecution to find the one and only killer of my daughter," Mrs. Dodge despairingly observes. "They need to do their job."

Tapp became entangled in the investigation not only because he was a friend of the man originally suspected of the murder, Ben Hobbs, but also because he was known to lead investigator Detective Fuhriman. Before his promotion Fuhriman was a resource officer and DARE instructor at Idaho Falls High School, where he had become acquainted with his future victim.

On January 6, 1997 – six months after Dodge was murdered, Hobbs was arrested for rape in Ely, Nevada. Once the Idaho Falls Police – who had not been able to make any headway on the case -- settled on Hobbs as a suspect, notes a report compiled by Judges for Justice, “they stopped looking for suspects and worked to extract a confession.” 

They did this despite the fact that they had known about a much better suspect since the previous September.

At about 3:00 a.m. on June 13, 1996, Angie Dodge’s neighbor John Browning received a visit from a fellow tenant of the Woodruff Apartments. In a subsequent affidavit Browning recounted that the visitor, who asked for a cigarette, “had blood on his clothes, scratches on his face and a rug burn on his chin…. I remember seeing tape on his wrists.” Browning’s ex-wife Gentri, who was never interviewed by police investigators, later identified the man in a photograph taken in 1988. 

The man in that photograph is not Chris Tapp.

Browning himself was approached at work by a plainclothes police officer in September 1996, and provided a detailed description of the blood-spattered visitor. This included the fact that he was often seen riding a black motorcycle with speakers attached by bungee cords. Once again, Chris Tapp is not a match for this description.

Police reports frequently mentioned a convicted rapist named Jeffrey Lynn Smith, who did match the visitor’s description. For reasons never explained, the IFPD decided not to pursue that lead. For reasons that are eminently explicable and legally indefensible, the Bonneville County DA’s Office withheld those facts from Tapp’s defense attorney, thereby committing a Brady violation that by itself is sufficient to vacate the conviction – or at least dictate a new trial. 

After Hobbs was arrested, he adamantly insisted that he had nothing to do with the killing of Angie Dodge. When the available physical evidence eliminated Hobbs as a suspect, the IFPD's theory expanded to include a second man named Jeremy Sargis, and eventually a third, never-identified man. Fuhriman sought to elicit from Tapp testimony that could be used against Hobbs and Sturgis, feeding him details about the murder and the crime scene and often misrepresenting the evidence. After DNA tests disqualified both Hobbs and Sargis, Fuhriman – no doubt acting under pressure from his superiors and, most likely, his own ego – framed Tapp for the crime.

Tapp had been carefully beguiled into believing that he was helping the police learn the identity of the degenerate wretch who had murdered a friend. He was shocked and disoriented to learn that another friend was the perpetrator – and then terrified to discover that he could find himself in prison, or facing execution, for the crime unless he perjured himself. What he never realized until far too late was that his captors were playing a cynical game of musical chairs, and that he was the one left standing when the music stopped. 

At first, Tapp was offered an immunity agreement in exchange for testifying against Hobbs. The prosecutor revoked that agreement after the story Fuhriman had fed to Tapp was discredited by physical evidence. Tapp continued to deny any knowledge of, or involvement in, the murder, and Fuhriman continued to escalate his demands that Tapp ratify various theories of the case. 

During the initial sessions, Tapp was interrogated without the benefit of an attorney. After his mother intervened to obtain an attorney for him, the police arrested Tapp on a charge of "accessory to a felony" -- on the basis of his agreement with a false narrative they had dictated to him. Tapp was held for six days, then interrogated until he broke and provided them with the spurious confession they sought in the belief that this was the only way he could avoid the gas chamber. At one point, as the emotionally battered suspect refused to admit to a crime he didn’t commit. Fuhriman – a prominent leader in the lay priesthood of the Mormon Church – invoked the concept of religious absolution, insisting that Tapp would receive some kind of divine favor if he agreed with the false narrative being imposed on him.

“This is a false confession,” summarized McCrary of Judges for Justice in a 2014 report to the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office. Fuhriman and his colleagues “manipulated Mr. Tapp through a series of explicit threats and promises, used false evidence ploys, asked a host of leading questions and continually contaminated the interrogation by disclosing nonpublic details of the crime and crime scene while naming suspects speculatively, all of which was improper…. These detectives never attempted to validate Mr. Tapp’s repeated denials. The detectives had prematurely moved from an evidence-based investigation to a suspect based investigation, with only mere speculation linking their favored suspects to the crime and crime scene.”

Rather than pursuing leads in the search of the truth, Fuhriman and his cohorts, who displayed “tunnel vision, confirmation bias, group think, organization momentum, and belief perseverance,” are guilty of what Judges for Justice describes as “noble cause corruption” – the belief that the virtuous end of punishing a hideous crime justified the use of dishonest and criminal means.

Last April, the Bonneville County Public Defender’s Office filed a petition for post-conviction relief, on Tapp’s behalf, citing the fact that DNA evidence collected at the scene excludes Tapp as a suspect. Three years earlier, a previous petition was denied by Idaho Seventh District Judge Joel Tingey, who claimed that Tapp hadn’t proven that he was in police custody at the time he made the indisputably false confession. 

Convenient timing: Mayor Fuhriman announces his "memory" disorder.
 Significantly, Jared Fuhriman, who had twice been elected Mayor of Idaho Falls by the time Tapp filed his first petition for relief, wasn’t able to offer testimony on the basis of the unexpected but conveniently timed appearance of a “memory disorder.” Although he clearly harbored political aspirations beyond Idaho Falls City Hall, Fuhriman declined to run for a second term after NBC Dateline broadcast a program devoted to the Chris Tapp case, and has apparently retired from public life.

Judges for Justice has slammed the Idaho appellate court system for its refusal to reconsider the case, a decision that appears to be motivated by a desire to protect the personal and institutional reputations of those responsible for sending an innocent man to prison – and allowing a murderer to go free.

Tapp will not be eligible for parole until 2027.  One condition of parole would be that he admit to the crime – and pass a polygraph examination certifying that his confession is sincere. Ironically, Tapp was maneuvered into a false confession with the help of IFPD Detective Steve Finn, a polygraph examiner who conspired (no other word is suitable) with Fuhriman to manipulate the suspect into falsely incriminating himself. 

One detail in the story concocted by Fuhriman that betrays its origins in his imagination is the claim (noted in McCrary’s report) that “Hobbs, tap and UNSUB were under the influence of a significant amount of marijuana” at the time they supposedly gang-raped and murdered their victim. Fuhriman, it will be recalled, was a DARE instructor paid to peddle “Reefer Madness”-grade prohibitionist propaganda. 

It is doubtful that even Harry Anslinger, the deranged and race-obsessed grandfather of the Drug War, would credit the idea that young men blitzed on weed would rape, strangle, and mutilate a young woman. In fact, by the 1950s Anslinger’s chief objection to marijuana was that consuming it would leave young men too torpid and pacifistic to take up arms against the Commies. Fuhriman’s view of marijuana as a Satanic Communist Demon Weed capable of turning upright young men into murderous sex fiends was about seventy years behind the prohibitionist curve, but it still played well in Puritanical southeastern Idaho. 

The methods used by Jared Fuhriman and his comrades to extort the false confession from Tapp were broadly congruent with those employed by child sex predators to groom and exploit their victims. Although no physical violation was involved, the Idaho Falls Police Department gang-raped Chris Tapp, which is an on-going offense while that innocent man remains in prison and a protected murderer -- assuming he hasn't paid his debt to nature -- continues to walk free.
This week's Freedom Zealot Podcast also examines the wrongful conviction of Christopher Tapp:

Dum spiro, pugno!


Anonymous said...

Will, Anthony Gregory wrote the perfect companion piece to your own excellent articles : I'm sure you have read this but for the benefit of your reader's the link is Anthony explains that the judiciary, the assemblage of police, prosecutor, courts, and prisons produce such a horrible product because the judiciary is a socialist enterprise. Political control blocks customer's normal consumer power, their normal ability to vet competing services in a free market subscribing with the good providers while cancelling subscriptions with the bad. In addition to Anthony's great analysis there is also the historical origins of the judiciary. The 'business model' of the medieval European aristocracies was plunder: Organize an army bigger than competing feudal warlords, seize territory, establish yourself as the monopoly plunderer. In time the judiciary replaced the army as a more effective administrator and organizer of plunder in already conquered territories. At the same time in Western Europe the idea of individual rights begins to emerge independent of and adversarially to the judiciary. Magna Carta put restraints on King John's taxation of the barons. Habeas Corpus amounts to resistance to the judiciary. 1776 was a tax rebellion and struggle for enhanced individual rights waged against the British judiciary then operating in the colonies. Now the judiciary was not dismantled in the revolution of 1776. Anthony Gregory's free market justice and security regrettably did not emerge to replace it. Rather its control simply passed from the British monarchy to the victorious American political class. Under control of the American political elite, the judiciary readily went on to enforce slavery, readily enforced and affirmed Jim Crow (Plessy Ferguson SCOTUS 1896), readily fell in line with political classes Prohibition and subsequent War on Drugs. The history of the Judiciary for its thousand year existence has been the history of a subject people under domination of a political elite. And so the articles you write so well are if you like the predictable consequence of a judiciary whose origins lie in the bureaucratization of plunder in medieval Europe. I don't see how one can ever hope to reform the judiciary. Rather its a question of consumers connecting the dots, of grasping that the great material wonders delivered by the free market and private enterprise could likewise be delivered in the realm of security and justice once these services are likewise brought under free market consumer control.

Anonymous said...

Consumers?Last I checked I am a HUMAN.

Anonymous said...

the definition of hu-man is monster.