Monday, August 29, 2016

The State as Accomplice: Did Idaho's "Justice" System Shield a Serial Murderer?

See an important update below.

“Our investigation in the death of Angie Dodge is not over,” insists Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride. “It will never be considered a closed case until after we have identified and brought all involved to justice.”

The man currently serving a life sentence for the June 12, 1996 sexual assault and murder of the 18-year-old Dodge, Christopher Tapp, is not guilty of that crime. No physical evidence exists to connect him to the scene. He was convicted solely on the basis of a coerced false confession that was extracted through methods a former FBI supervisory special agent has described as psychological torture

Manipulated by lies about polygraph results and told in unambiguous terms that only a confession would save him from the death penalty, Tapp regurgitated theories of the crime that had been force-fed to him by Detective (and now former Idaho Falls Mayor) Jared Fuhriman. Some of the details he described are contradicted by physical evidence. That didn’t matter to Fuhriman and Bonneville County DA Kip Manwaring, who were able to beguile a credulous jury into accepting that confession as valid. 

He didn't do it: Tapp.
McBride insists that “based on DNA evidence located at the crime scene … we know there is at least one additional unidentified suspect.” Note how Chief McBride carefully avoids acknowledging that the DNA evidence excludes Tapp as a suspect. The Chief wants the public to believe that he and his subordinates are consumed with zeal to track down that individual, but that this formidable task simply exceeds their competence.

Here’s how they can find him:

Start at the Police Headquarters building at 220 Freedom Way in Radcliff, Kentucky. Go to the end of the parking lot, then turn left on West Lincoln Trail Boulevard. Drive about 2,000 feet to Highway 31 West. After making a right turn, continue a little less than two miles, then turn left on South Street. Proceed about five hundred feet, then take another left, followed by an immediate right. 

You will then arrive at your destination, 58 Center Street, the most recent known address of former Idaho Falls resident Jeffrey Lynn Smith, who is quite likely the actual murderer of Angie Dodge. If he isn’t at that address it should be relatively easy to find out where he has gone, given that as a convicted rapist he is required to register as a sex offender.
The Idaho Falls Police Department and the Bonneville DA’s office are very familiar with Mr. Smith, since he was given a grant of immunity to testify in the murder trial of his brother, Lanny Smith. That trial, which resulted in Lanny’s conviction for the double murder of Leo and Mary Downward in March 1992, concluded on April 18, 1996. Less than two months later, Angie Dodge was murdered in her Idaho Falls apartment.

                                                      An Unsettling 3:00 Visit

At about 3:00 a.m. on June 13 – just a few hours after Angie was murdered – a man later identified as Jeffrey Smith showed up on the doorstep of John Browning, his neighbor at the Woodruff Apartment complex, which is about two miles away from the crime scene. In an affidavit Browning has described Smith as “having blood on his clothes[,] scratches on his face and a rug burn on the right side of his chin the size of a quarter.” His hands were taped, as well.

Browning’s ex-wife, Gentri Goff, has also sworn out an affidavit describing Smith in the same condition.

Smith, who was known to the couple on sight but not by name until later, asked if he could come in and clean up in the couple’s bathroom. 

“I told him he could use the hose outside, but he could not come inside,” Browning recounts.
Without prompting from the couple, Smith told them that he had been roughed up in an accident. After he left, Browning commented to his wife that Smith “seemed to be looking for an alibi.”
Jeffrey L. Smith
A few weeks later, a plainclothes Idaho Falls police detective contacted Browning at work and took a statement from him in which he recounted the odd visit by a man who was about 5’6” tall with “long blond hair,” who “dressed like a cowboy, and drove a Honda motorcycle with homemade speakers.” His then-wife was never contacted by the police. It wasn’t until July 2012 that an investigator working on behalf of Tapp’s appellate counsel interviewed Goff about the incident, and she identified the visitor as Jeffrey Lynn Smith from a family photo.
Clearly, the IFPD knew – before contacting Browning and his wife -- that Jeffrey Smith was in Angie Dodge’s neighborhood the night of the murder.

At the time, he was on probation following a conviction for statutory rape, a fact with some relevance given that Dodge was sexually assaulted before being eviscerated with a knife. 

Dodge’s body displayed defensive wounds indicating that she fought back against the murderer. She was a strong, athletic young woman, six feet tall and about 170 pounds. Smith is listed in the registry as 5’7” and 200 pounds; this suggests that he would be strong enough to overcome a resisting woman, but not without absorbing some punishment, as he clearly had by the time he woke up Browning and his wife and demanded access to their bathroom.
By any rational assessment, Smith was the best suspect in the case by a prohibitive margin. There is no indication he was ever treated as such by the IFPD. There is, furthermore, ample reason to perceive either Olympian incompetence or purposeful corruption in the department’s handling of the evidence. 

                                               Whoops – There Goes the Evidence

In a lengthy 2008 interview that she gave before concluding – on the basis of the evidence -- that Chris Tapp had been wrongfully convicted of murdering her daughter, Carol Dodge complained that the IFPD initially focused the investigation on family members. They released the crime scene within a few hours of the killing, which allowed the landlord to send in a cleaning service that tore up the carpets and painted over the walls. The police never took samples from the carpets at the murder scene. They also left behind several items containing evidence from the death struggle that were packaged up and given to Carol. After learning of their evidentiary value, Carol gave those keepsakes to the IFPD, which supposedly sent them away for testing but never reported the results.

Dodge also claims that “the police department removed a wallet that was found in a shoebox taken from the crime scene”; that wallet reportedly “belonged to someone that a police department employee knew.” Rather than keeping it as evidence, the wallet was released to the father of its owner within a day or two of the murder. When interviewed by the police, the owner claimed that he had lost the wallet outside the apartment and that Angie, whom he barely knew, must have found it and kept it, rather than seeking to return it.

Carol also recalls a conversation with Angie just hours before her death in which she said that she had done something “really stupid” and needed to leave town. Following that chat – the last she would ever have with her mother – Angie told a co-worker at the Beauty for All Seasons salon that if she didn’t have to work the following day, she was going to leave town immediately. She had made a brief trip by airplane out of Idaho Falls a few weeks earlier – something the IFPD did not look into – and she was clearly terrified and anxious to get away.

Some of Angie’s friends – Chris Tapp among them – were known drug users. Toxicology tests performed on Angie’s body showed no evidence of drug or alcohol consumption. One IFPD spokesman told the Post Register newspaper that the case was “frustrating because people who might have valuable information about the murder are in the local drug culture and are not likely to speak to police.”

At least one person within that cohort was very willing to speak with the police. Carol Dodge says that she had been told that “a confidential informer working with narcotics agents was part of Tapp’s crowd.”

One very plausible theory is that Jeffrey Smith was that informant. He was a convicted sex offender with a violent history who was clearly being protected by the police in spite of very compelling evidence that he was Angie’s killer. Just a few weeks earlier, as noted previously, he had been given immunity to testify against his younger brother Lanny, who was convicted of murdering Leo and Mary Downard four years earlier.

When the investigation that led to Lanny’s conviction began, Jeffrey was the original suspect. As would later happen in Chris Tapp’s prosecution, the case against Lanny involved no definitive physical evidence connecting the defendant to a hideous crime. The prosecution placed great emphasis on a single tennis shoe print found in the dust in the Downards’ master bedroom. In style and design it matched a pair owned by Lanny – and a nearly identical pair owned by Jeffrey, that was a different size. A computer-manipulated photograph of the dust print – made by Eric Greenwade, an INEL scientist with no experience or credentials as a crime scene investigator -- was described as a match for Lanny’s shoes.

A more incriminating piece of physical evidence was found on a pair of jeans owned by Jeffrey – a red spot that initially tested positive as a blood stain. It wasn’t until after the trial that the defense learned that Robert Kerchusky, supervisor of the Idaho Department of Law Enforcement’s latent fingerprint section, a latent fingerprint lifted from the Bushnell scope of the .22 rifle used to kill the Downards matched Jeffrey Smith. When combined with the fact that Jeffrey was the last person seen at the Downard home the day of the murder, there was more than adequate probable cause to indict him for the crime. The charges were dismissed by a magistrate judge in August 1992 – to the audible astonishment of those in the courtroom.

                                 The Supposed Motive: He was a “Chubby Chaser”

The case was dormant for more than a year and a half before the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office reopened it – this time focusing on Lanny Smith, rather than Jeffrey. Lanny, who unlike his older brother had no criminal history, is what genteel people would describe as “slow.” He didn’t appear to possess the intellectual skill-set to plan and carry out a murder that would leave practically no useful evidence in its wake. Nor did he have a plausible motive for killing an elderly couple he regarded as friends.

Former BCSO Detective Victor Rodriguez has said that with no compelling evidence to work with, he tried to identify a motive. A local resident named Beverly Huffaker provided him with one that skeptics would regard as lurid gossip: Lanny supposedly nurtured a romantic interest in middle-aged women of ample carriage, and Mary Downard fit that type. On this construction, Lanny slaughtered the Downards after he had been spurned by Mary.

To supplement her speculation regarding Lanny’s alleged fetish, Huffaker told the police that Lanny had admitted to her that he had visited the victims’ home on the day of the murder. She and her son Scott claimed that Lanny had tearfully told them in the early hours of March 22, 1992 that something “something bad had happened” to the Downards. This was taken as a quasi-confession that he had killed the couple. However, that conversation could not have taken place.
Not a criminal mastermind: Lanny Smith.
Beverly and Scott Huffaker adamantly insisted that they recalled the content and date of that conversation because they had just returned from a trip to Nevada during which Scott had won $400. On the following day, they claimed, Scott had used the money to purchase a rifle. During the trial, however, the defense located a receipt for the rifle proving that the purchase had occurred in February, weeks prior to the murder.

Undaunted, the prosecution produced another witness to whom Lanny had supposedly confessed – a jailhouse snitch named James Swogger.

In the familiar fashion of other offenders seeking to curry favor with the state, Swogger learned about the impending trial of Lanny Smith and told investigators that he would be willing to testify in exchange for considerations. Facing several counts of theft, and one charge of child molestation, Swogger wanted to be relocated to a safer detention facility.

On May 14, 1994, shortly before the trial was scheduled to begin, Swogger wrote a letter to Detective Rodriguez in which he recanted his story that Lanny had confessed to him.
“Please do not continue to harass me,” Swogger demanded. “If I am forced to take the stand, you will regret the words out of my mouth because I will have to tell the truth which is I do not know a thing. So you and everyone else should leave me the hell alone.”

Since they were riding a weak case, the prosecution called Swogger anyway. During a preliminary hearing, Swogger repented of his recantation, insisting that Lanny not only murdered the couple but engaged in a necrophilic assault on Mary’s lifeless body – a claim that was generated by his own depraved imagination and unsupported by physical evidence.
The trial judge unaccountably denied the defense’s motion in limine, and the prosecution -- once again underscoring the abject poverty of its case – put Swogger on the stand. He rehearsed to the jury his aberrant claim that Lanny had raped the dead victim – a detail he described as a “trump card.”

Lanny’s defense counsel introduced another letter Swogger had written to the trial judge in his pending criminal case threatening not to testify unless he received a lenient sentence.
“If you are not willing to agree to these terms, then you should seriously reconsider calling me for my testimony,” Swogger told the judge. “And don’t bother sending a transport for me to come before the trial. Because unless I have one of the terms in writing by the proper authorities, I will not come no matter what you do to me or how much time you give me.”

When contacted by investigators for Lanny Smith’s appellate counsel several years ago, Swogger once again denied any knowledge of the murders. In the event that Smith is granted a new trial, both the prosecution and defense should be able to find him with little difficulty: He was convicted on drug and theft charges in Marion County, Oregon last June 22

                                   The Star Witness – and Most Likely Suspect

Batting cleanup in the prosecution’s underwhelming witness lineup was Jeffrey Smith, who had invoked the Fifth Amendment until he was promised a grant of immunity. His testimony should have been of little use to the prosecution – and it should have been considered a bonanza for the defense.

Jeffrey testified that he had a “fair” reputation in the community – a claim that left him open to extensive impeachment by the defense. Under cross-examination he admitted that five years prior to the murders, he had stolen the .22 rifle eventually used as the murder weapon and attempted to pawn it. He also admitted that he had raped his first ex-wife, and that he had subsequently kidnaped her, taken her to the desert, and threatened to murder her.
When questioned by defense counsel, Detective Rodriguez insisted that Jeffrey was no longer considered a suspect despite the fact that he had told the grand jury that he “has a background of wife abuse and physical abuse.” Asked if he still regarded him to be dangerous, Rodriguez replied, “I don’t believe so.”
Detective Rodriguez was lying. A report he filed with the prosecution in October 1993 warned that Jeffrey Smith had “displaced acts of violence on his two ex-wives, even to the point of holding a gun to their heads.” At the time, Jeffrey was awaiting trial on a statutory rape charge. All of this was withheld from the jury during Lanny Smith’s trial.

The prosecution also suppressed testimony from Vicky Smith Saver (who is now Vicky Rodriguez),
describing how Jeffrey had “threatened to shoot their mother … rape [his sister],” and that he had engaged in “sexually inappropriate” behavior with his sister.”

Shortly after Lanny was convicted, his appellate counsel received a written statement from a woman named Jamie Lynn Hill, who had been a co-worker with one of Jeffrey Smith’s ex-wives. Jeffrey had materialized at the Life Care Center in the company of two underage girls to cadge money from his ex-wife. Eventually the demands escalated to violence. According to Hill, when she intervened, Smith snarled at her:  “You better back down, little girl, or I’ll take care of you just like I took care of that old Ammon couple” – which she took as a reference to the Downards.

A report of an incident of spousal abuse between Jeffrey Smith and his ex-wife was filed with the Bonneville Sheriff’s Office on March 18, 1994
. At the time of that altercation, Smith was about a week away from a sentencing hearing that would result in an eight-year term of probation. He had legal and court fees to pay and most likely needed money. Understandably horrified by what happened, Hill described the threat to her father, Idaho Falls Police Captain Gary Hagen.

During testimony in Lanny Smith’s post-conviction hearing, Captain Hagen equivocated about the date of his daughter’s disclosure, which he said was tied to a “preliminary hearing.” This was taken as a reference to Lanny Smith’s trial in 1996. What it almost certainly meant, however, was Jeffrey Smith’s sentencing hearing, which happened six days after he had threatened to murder Hill.

                           Get the Conviction – Don’t Worry About Justice

The prosecutor was aware of Hill’s statement – and, in keeping with the long-established standards of his loathsome profession, withheld that evidence from the defense. 

In a ruling issued last March, US District Judge Edward Lodge insisted that this was not a Brady violation – that is, an offense against due process that would merit a new trial -- because “there was no evidence that Gary Hagen was acting on the government’s behalf in the Downard case. As an Idaho Falls police officer, he was not involved in the investigation of the Downards’ homicides in Ammon, which were being investigated by the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Department. More generally, he was acting as Hill’s father rather than a law enforcement official when he advised her to contact the appropriate authorities and stay away from Jeff Smith.”

This is rank casuistry. The salient question is not whether Hagen was assigned to investigate
the murders, but whether the prosecution possessed any potentially exculpatory material evidence. Given that the prosecution’s case depended on an eminently disputable footprint identification supplemented by three thoroughly impeachable witnesses – one of whom offered nothing but prurient speculation, another an obvious perjurer, and the third a much better suspect than the defendant – no mystery is involved in explaining why the prosecution didn’t let the defense know about Hill’s testimony.

Why did the criminal “justice” system in Bonneville County protect Jeffrey Lynn Smith during the investigation of the Downard and Angie Dodge murders, and why does the Idaho Attorney General’s Office continue to do so today? The search for an explanation begins with the possibility that he was the local narcotics task force’s rabid little pet, and only gets worse from there.

Assessing the available evidence from the proper perspective – which is to say, that of a cynic who regards all government agencies to be incurably corrupt and incompetent until proven otherwise – it seems clear that if the Bonneville County criminal “justice” system had convicted the offender who actually murdered Leo and Mary Downard, Angie Dodge would probably be alive today. 

                                                     UPDATE, September 15, 2016

Earlier today I had the privilege of speaking briefly with Judge Michael Heavey (Ret.), founder of Judges for Justice. He told me that a DNA test had been performed on Jeffrey L. Smith and that it apparently excluded him as a donor at the Angie Dodge murder site. This wouldn't be dispositive under the perverse theory used by the prosecution to obtain the wrongful conviction of Chris Tapp, but for reasonable and honest people it does argue strongly for his innocence in the Dodge murder.

We are still left with Smith's criminal background as a repeat violent sex offender prone to making murder threats, his bloody appearance a few blocks from the murder scene at or near the time of the crime, and the evidence that Jeffrey Smith, rather than his brother Lanny, murdered the Downards. Judge Heavey is convinced that Angie Dodge was the victim of an impulsive sexual homicide committed by a single opportunistic offender who remains at large because of the IFPD's perverse determination to convict a manifestly innocent man.

This week's Freedom Zealot Podcast also discusses the wrongful conviction of Chris Tapp, the profoundly dubious conviction of Lanny Smith, and the Idaho "justice" system's odd solicitude toward Jeffrey Lynn Smith:

Dum spiro, pugno!


Anonymous said...

The "Pet's"work likely moved up in rank, which means more value to the retirement package for members of LE and government attorneys. These government employees that are named in this fact finding and based story are protected by the local media that withholds stories of the real truth from the public. The public would never stand for this kind of criminal conduct from their government, but they don't get to know what is going on with their local media having a blackout of the real truth about the criminals that make up the local governments. No question about it, there is a special place in hell for such people. This is what happens when 90 percent of the media is owned by 6 groups. The public is left in the dark as the criminal rule the roost.

Kent McManigal said...

If you ever find yourself on a jury remember: the defense may lie to you; the prosecution WILL lie to you.

kirk said...

your words 'Get the Conviction – Don’t Worry About Justice' aptly describes this sorry sequence of events that only someone without a conscience, ie a sociopath, could be comfortable accepting and gaining from.

despicable acts by despicable people serving up a patsy is not justice.
that these despicable acts by despicable people could quite possibly have ultimately resulted in the murder of an innocent person renders the parties to such as guilty as the actual, physical perpetrator.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

WILLIAM, I sure do appreciate these articles you write about corrupt law enforcement personnel, judges and lawyers. There are too few websites like this one which tell the truth regarding the evil taking place under the guise of "justice".

I have recommended this site of yours to many people over the years and intend to continue that practice. You're a good writer (I remember you from your TNA days) and you dig out the facts and tell them straight.

Please keep these Law Enforcement-related articles coming, Brother.

~ D-FensDogG
'Loyal American Underground'

Anonymous said...

Angie lived 2 blocks down from where I was renting in 1996. I attempted to give evidence to the police on 2 different occasions, but was never taken seriously. I contacted police again in 2009 and was not taken seriously. My memory has faded, so it is hard to recall the events of that night. I don't know that my tips are worth anything, but I was bothered by the fact that I was quickly dismissed by the authorities in Idaho Falls.

I was working in the media over 20 years ago so I had an opportunity to view the post-mortem pictures of Ms. Dodge. They will forever haunt me.

William N. Grigg said...

Could I speak with you sometime? WNGrigg[at]msn[dot]com.

K. Chris said...

The root of the problem lies with those victimized by tyranny.

As Jefferson so aptly said, "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Or as I summarize it, "Liberty is a demand. Tyranny is submission."

That means that the responsibility and defense of Liberty relies upon those desiring it. Tyranny is not imposed, but permitted. The cause then of the growing malignancy of treason and tyranny within our American country is our acquiescence to it.

Resistance and retribution to tyranny is not just an individual's choice, but also a responsibility, a duty, to his fellow countrymen--" is their duty..." By not resisting or responding with retributions against tyranny's crimes, one diminishes tyranny's fear of the rest of the victim's countrymen. The result is heightened tyrannical behavior by tyranny against one's neighbors and fellow countrymen.

The victims of tyranny that survive, and their family members and friends, must, for their sake, and the sake of their country, respond with resistance and retribution in a way that leave those that would also commit such crimes shaking in their boots. To not do so is cowardice, and damning to their fellow countrymen as well.

It is not about revenge, as revenge is selfish. It is about holding those committing such crimes responsibly for their behavior, and, more importantly, deterring the others of tyranny from same. This is also part of the lesson of the Stanford Prison, and Milgram, experiments--lack of accountability breeds tyranny.

As for myself, I have taken a personal oath to rain hell fire down upon those, and their associates, that would have harmed those of my family. Beat or kill a child of mine? Beat or kill my father or grandfather? Taze my grandmother to death? Be prepared to experience violence of a level unimaginable. A level calculated to give even tyranny's most recalcitrant thugs pause the next time they ponder waging tyranny upon another American. A pause then that can be multiplied as others take actions against those that have harmed their loved ones,friends, and ultimately, fellow countrymen.

An American citizen, not US subject.

Anonymous said...

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

Invested said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just wondered abt the other 2 men that were there that night. No one really talked much to them.

Anonymous said...

I would like to ask anonymous, that lived "2 blocks down" , if she lived near 240 I street.....this information is critical, if your answer is yes. Also, would like to communicate with Mr. Grigg, thank you for responding....