Idaho Falls, ID — Christopher C. Tapp has been imprisoned for nineteen years — nearly half his life — for a murder he didn’t commit, after being forced to confess through the use 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 available on YouTube (see below) analyzes the methods used by Idaho Falls Police Detective Jared Furhiman and his colleagues to extort the confession from Tapp in January 1997. 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.” Unlike Manitowoc, Wisconsin resident Steve Avery, Chris Tapp of Idaho Falls had no previous criminal record when he was manipulated into a false murder confession in 1997 – zero forensic evidence links him to the heinous crime. The new documentary by the non-profit advocacy group Judges for Justice examines, in infuriating detail, the corrupt and illegal methods used to extort that confession from a terrified young man who had nothing to do with the crime.
The only evidence against Tapp is a 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.”
The 18-year-old victim, Angie Dodge, was sexually assaulted and murdered in her home in June 1996. Tapp became entangled in the investigation because he was an acquaintance of the man originally suspected of the murder, Ben Hobbs. Lead investigator Detective Fuhriman, who went on to become Mayor of Idaho Falls, was a former IFPD resource officer at Idaho Falls High School, where he had become acquainted with his future victim.
Several 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.”
Hobbs adamantly insisted that he had nothing to do with the killing, at one point telling an irate Detective Fuhriman that he would be “foolish” if he tried to connect him to the crime scene. 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 Sargis, 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.
A socially marginalized and emotionally vulnerable 20-year-old high school dropout, Tapp was subjected to lies, threats, false promises of leniency, and the deliberate deception of Detective Steve Finn, a polygraph examiner who conspired (no other word is suitable) with Fuhriman to manipulate the suspect into falsely incriminating himself. 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.
At one point, 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.
Since that arrest, a pre-emptive strike to prevent Tapp from obtaining the assistance of a lawyer, he has never been a free man.
“This is a false confession,” former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Gregg McCrary wrote 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.
Tapp now vehemently insists that he is innocent. Last April, the Bonneville County Public Defender’s Office filed a petition for post-conviction relief, 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. 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 polygraph specialist – Finn. Over the course of several examinations, Finn lied to the suspect about the results of several tests, telling him that his truthful answers displayed “deception” and that his final test – that resulted in the confession – yielded a “truthful” response.
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 – and the Idaho appellate court system is protecting the offenders, as well as the actual murderer of Angie Dodge, by refusing to grant relief to the victim of the frame-up.