Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Make This Right, Jared: Help Free Chris Tapp

Put former Idaho Falls Mayor Jared Fuhriman in a room filled with people, wrote the Idaho Falls Post Register’s editorial board in an encomium to the retired politician, “and warmth radiates from him. His decency is genuine, not the fabricated kind that can be sniffed out a mile away.”

Christopher Tapp, who spent many hours in intimate proximity to Fuhriman in early 1997, wasn’t blessed by his radiant decency. Tapp remains confined to a prison cell in Kuna, where he has served nearly twenty years of a life sentence inflicted on him for a crime he didn’t commit, on the basis of a false confession that then-Detective Fuhriman extorted from him.

In May 1998, Tapp was found guilty of the sexual assault and murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge. There is not a particle of physical evidence, or a syllable of direct testimony, connecting Tapp to that hideous crime. That his confession is false is now beyond dispute.

After fourteen months and the expenditure of $36,000 in funds plundered from tax victims in Bonneville County, retired Blackfoot Police Detective Stuart Robinson has published the results of his outside investigation into the methods employed to secure Tapp’s conviction. He concludes that the confession was irremediably “tainted” by the tactics used by Fuhriman and his accomplices, who fed him non-public details of the crime, threatened him with a life sentence or execution if he didn’t cooperate, bullied him into making falsely accusations against two friends, and then wrung the spurious confession out of him by insisting it was necessary in order to save his life.
“Tapp was told continually throughout the interviews of the possibility of a death sentence,” Robinson emphasizes. It is impermissible for a police interrogator to threaten “inevitable consequences” while questioning a suspect, and “the fact that [Tapp was told repeatedly] that he could end up with the death penalty …started to affect his credibility as to the truthfulness of his statements,” Robinson continues. 

As lead investigator, Fuhriman fed to Tapp “numerous details during his interrogation about the crime and the crime scene which should have been withheld by detectives,” Robinson observes. Fuhriman took Tapp to the crime scene, a visit that was not recorded or documented in any way. He and his colleagues told Tapp about the position of the victim’s body, the murder weapon, the approximate time of the murder, and that a stuffed animal was probably used to muffle her screams. They systematically contaminated the videotaped interrogations, brief excerpts of which were eventually shown to the jury. 

Robinson’s inquiry has largely duplicated the investigative efforts by Judges for Justice, and those carried out by Carol Dodge, Angie’s mother. The conclusions Robinson reluctantly reached are obvious to people who have been following the case. What distinguishes his report is the fact that it bears the imprimatur of Bonneville County Prosecutor Danny Clark. If he is any part of a man, Mr. Clark will immediately file a Rule 59 motion for a new trial on behalf of Tapp. But his intent in authorizing Robinson’s review was not to establish the truth of the matter.

“There’s been court after court that’s reviewed this case,” Clark declared as he announced the investigation. “The same questions that are being raised by these groups [such as Judges for Justice] have been reviewed by the courts over the last eighteen years.”

If the conviction is unassailably sound, why did Clark approve of an expensive outside inquiry? The objective, he explained, was “to instill in the public confidence in what’s been done.”
Predictably, Clark has displayed no zeal in acting to rectify the injustice documented in Robinson’s findings. He has blithely said that his office will “review and analyze the report and wait for feedback” from the IFPD, an agency whose institutional misconduct is amply documented in Robinson’s report. 
Defending the system, not pursuing justice: Clark (r.).
The official story is that Tapp “confessed” to holding Angie down while two others – frequently identified as Ben Hobbs and Jeremy Sargis, neither of whom was ever charged in connection to the crime – raped and then killed the young woman. Angie’s head had nearly been severed from her body, and her wounds attested to the desperate struggle she made against her assailant(s). Semen and hair samples were collected from the body of the victim. 

While held captive by Fuhriman and Detective Steve Finn – who was supposedly conducting a polygraph examination – Tapp made statements implicating Hobbs and Sargis in the murder. Yet several analyses of the DNA samples excluded Hobbs, Sargis, and Tapp. 

Under duress, Tapp “confessed” to slashing the victim’s breast after pulling up her t-shirt. Robinson notes that “The crime scene photographs show that the cut to Angie’s breast was through the shirt. The shirt was down when the cut to her breast was made.” 

In his “confession,” Tapp said that after the murder he cleaned his hands on the victim’s t-shirt. That article of clothing yielded Y-STR DNA traces from at least four male contributors. Tapp was not among them. 

Tapp was also manipulated into claiming that he had held down Angie by the arms and wrist. DNA swabs produced profiles from at least three different male donors. Once again, none of them was Chris Tapp. 

Exerting himself to placate the county prosecutor’s office – which, after all, had hired him – and to preserve his standing with the Blue Brotherhood, Robinson summons the temerity to claim that “Tapp at least witnessed the attack” because he correctly said the victim was wearing a t-shirt and sweats at the time of the assault, and in response to a leading question by his tormentors said that one side of the sweatpants had been pulled down lower than another.
These aren’t confessions; they are desperate guesses tossed out by a terrified young man who had been told that his life depended on pleasing the armed strangers who had detained him, and wouldn’t release him until he cooperated with them. 

As a school resource officer at Idaho Falls High School, Fuhriman had become acquainted with Tapp. A casual acquaintance of Angie Dodge, Tapp – who at the time was a 20-year-old high school drop-out -- had pleaded guilty to a minor drug paraphernalia charge a few weeks after Dodge’s murder. The implicit claim that a 20-year-old with no violent criminal history would take part in a lurid sexual assault and murder, despite a court date hovering in the near future, is one of countless imponderables in this case. 

When the IFPD rounded up Tapp for questioning the officers were looking for evidence against Hobbs, who had been arrested on suspicion of rape in Ely, Nevada.

Tapp knew Hobbs, and within a few hours of the latter’s arrest Tapp was being treated as an accomplice and facing pressure to incriminate his friend. Fuhriman and his comrades likewise began feeding Tapp non-public information about the crime – details that he would later recite back to them in his “confessions” and that would subsequently be used in court to convince a credulous jury that such things could only be known to the perpetrator.

The IFPD and Bonneville County Prosecutor Kip Manwaring threatened Tapp with prison – or the gas chamber – while offering him immunity if he testified against Hobbs. As the theory of the case expanded to include a second perpetrator, Fuhriman suggested that Tapp’s friend Jeremy Sargis was also involved. At one point, the detective blatantly lied to Tapp by telling him that Sargis had failed a lie detector test and the “jig is up.”

While this was happening, Detective Finn pretended to administer polygraph tests to Tapp, a charade intended to increase the hostage’s pliancy in the hands of his captors.

“It is evident that during the January 17, 1997 polygraph that Tapp doesn’t believe that Jeremy Sargis was in the room when Angie was killed,” observes Robinson’s report. It was Fuhriman who “introduced Sargis as a suspect even when Tapp denied this.” Yet following the test, Detective Finn “told Tapp he was 100% truthful. Tapp then believed that Sargis was in the room when Angie was killed.”

After it became clear that the story confected by Fuhriman wasn’t supported by the evidence, the prosecutor revoked Tapp’s immunity agreement because he had lied to investigators – by repeating back to them the lies they had told him.

When Tapp’s mother informed Fuhriman that her son would not consent to further interrogation without an attorney being present, Fuhriman unlawfully arrested him on a charge of being an “accessory to a felony,” then took him to the police station and unlawfully began another interrogation before the victim’s attorney arrived. With the cooperation of Detective Finn, Fuhriman carefully orchestrated Tapp’s “confession.”

Fuhriman settled on Chris Tapp because the young man’s history of minor drug offenses made him vulnerable. The same is true of the only prosecution witness who supposedly connected Tapp to the murder, a young woman named Destiny R. Osburne.

During the May 1998 trial, Miss Osburne claimed to have overheard Tapp, Hobbs, and Sargis discussing the murder at a party a few days after it occurred. Mirabile dictu, her account confirmed in precise detail the story that had been synthesized during the 20 hours of psychological torture to which Tapp was subjected: Hobbs and Sargis had raped and then killed Angie while Tapp held the victim down.

By this time, both Hobbs and Sargis had been eliminated as suspects. Under cross-examination, Osburne admitted that she was addicted to methamphetamines and was tweaked at the time she supposedly witnessed the astoundingly candid and detailed admissions.
Former IFPD detectives Fuhriman and Steve Roos (l.)

Prosecutor Kip Manwaring certainly knew that Osburne’s story was false, yet he presented it as evidence. He also knew that his case depended on a penetrably false confession, and needed to be buttressed by a witness who was willing to validate the prosecution’s story, even if this meant lying under oath. This was misprision of perjury.

For his part, Fuhriman perjured himself promiscuously when his turn came to testify. “Detective Fuhriman, during the trial of Tapp, testified extensively that Tapp was never provided specific information as to the murder of Angie,” relates Robinson’s report, citing copious footnoted examples from the trial transcripts – after documenting the relentless contamination of the interrogation that led to the ersatz confession.  

In summarizing the prosecution’s case, deputy DA Jon J. Shindurling presented an inventory of crime scene details culled from Tapp’s videotaped “confession.”

“No one makes up a story and gets all the details,” Shindurling told the jury, omitting mention of the fact that in composing the “story” Tapp was using details supplied to him by captors who threatened him with death.

Shindurling, who had participated in an interrogation session, was fully aware of the fact that the detectives had used Tapp as a ventriloquist’s dummy. He went on to become a district judge, a position from which he resigned two years ago – at about the same time that Tapp’s fraudulent conviction started to gain media exposure. In 2012, Fuhriman, who was elected Mayor of Idaho Falls in 2005 on the strength of his law enforcement record, also made an abrupt change of career plans shortly after being called to testify in an evidentiary hearing related to an earlier appeal.

On July 12, 2012, Seventh District Judge Joel E. Tingey dismissed Tapp’s appeal, making the remarkable – and now entirely discredited – claim that he was not in police custody at the time of his purported confession. Exactly two weeks later, Fuhriman – whose testimony a fortnight earlier was replete with confident descriptions of details from a decade and a half earlierreported that he had been diagnosed with “mild cognitive disorder.” Obviously, this would make him useless as a witness in future appeals.

It is true that a witness whose answer to a question is “I cannot recall” cannot be charged with perjury. Unfortunately for Fuhriman, his perjury is a matter of judicial record.  His diagnosis was apparently authentic – but it did demonstrate that the testimony he contributed during the evidentiary hearing was unreliable.

Last July, the Post-Register reported that Fuhriman has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which is probably the worst of all the afflictions to which our mortal flesh is heir.

Fuhriman has barely completed his fifth decade among the living, and faces the soul-paralyzing prospect of seeing decades of active, productive life stolen from him. Chris Tapp could provide a detailed description of how that feels.

If Jared Fuhriman is the robustly decent man his admirers describe, he will offer an unqualified acknowledgement of the crimes he committed against both Chris Tapp and Angie Dodge’s long-suffering mother, Carol, who has tirelessly sought Tapp’s exoneration. His restitution would necessarily include helping to bring the actual killer to justice. 

A hearing on Tapp's most recent appeal is set for September 20.Fuhriman can’t restore to Tapp the decades that were deleted from his life, but he can repent of an offense that burdens his soul, or at least should, by helping set an innocent man free.

 This week's Freedom Zealot Podcast offers additional details regarding the Robinson report on Chris Tapp's wrongful conviction:

My friends, I'm in dire straits -- alas, not the admirable classic rock band of that name, which would be a much more lucrative enterprise than independent journalism. I greatly appreciate the kindness you have shown, and would really appreciate any help you could provide. God bless.

Dum spiro, pugno!


kirk said...

that DNA was present and not that of Tapp should have exonerated him. that he was not exonerated suggests crusaders looking for a name for themselves, justice be damned.

it astounds that justice is the last thing those who 'protect' us want to come to the fore.

how can 'officials' act in this way? that's the easiest to answer. they are sociopaths and/or psychopaths with no conscience whatsoever.

as an aside, it is 'reassuring' that sociopaths and psychopaths are in place at all levels of the 'legal system' and have a monopoly on violence.

Anonymous said...

Has the DNA ever been tested to see if it belongs to Jeffery Smith?

William N. Grigg said...

I haven't found any evidence that Smith has been treated as a suspect, let alone that the DNA sample found at the murder site was compared to a sample taken from him. The IFPD dispatched a detective to Louisiana a couple of years ago to sandbag some poor schlep named Usury who on the basis of a DNA sample taken from was identified as a distant, possible, kinda-sorta quasi-likely potential suspect, if you squint really hard and ignore obvious leads (cough, cough, eyewitnesses who saw a bloody Jeffrey Lynn Smith near the murder scene a few hours after the crime -- cough, cough).

Smith is a violent psychopath with a criminal history that includes multiple sexual assaults. He has made repeated murder threats -- one of which was a quasi-confession in a double-murder for which his mentally handicapped brother Lanny was convicted. Usury, on the other hand, makes horror films that frighten the valiant men of the IFPD. So, sure, he's the better suspect, one supposes.

Anonymous said...

Jeffery Smith DNA has been tested and it is NOT A MATCH

William N. Grigg said...

See the September 15 update to my August 29 article on the subject.