Man who spent 20 wrongful years behind bars speaks out on compensation bill

Posted at 9:23 PM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 13:34:41-05

On Wednesday we told you about the bill introduced in the statehouse -- House Bill No. 384 -- inspired by one Idaho man's wrongful conviction that cost him half of his life behind bars. Now, that man, Christopher Tapp, speaks to 6 On Your Side about his first-hand experience transitioning back into society after serving years for a wrongful conviction:

The State of Idaho has exonerated six people over the past 30 years, and four of those would likely be eligible for this new bill where -- if it passed -- they would be compensated by the state.

Led by Representative Doug Ricks (R-Rexburg), the bill would entitle wrongfully convicted Idahoans to $60,000 a year for each year of imprisonment, or $75,000 a year if they were previously on death row.

"When you're wrongfully convicted and you're let back out into society, you don't have no programs, you have nothing when you're released, you just have, 'We're sorry.' And out the door you go," said Tapp.

Tapp knows from first-hand experience. He was wrongfully put away for 20 years for the tragic 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge in Idaho Falls but was later released when DNA evidence proved he didn't do it.

"When I was released in 2017, I was still convicted of a murder I didn't do, so yeah, it was really hard for me to get a job. I mean, I couldn't get a job at a Walmart," said Tapp.

Two and a half years later, Tapp was exonerated. But even now, his record still carries that scarlet letter: "It still says, ya know, murder," said Tapp.

But if this bill passes as written, those eligible would be able to enter of a certificate of innocence to a court, where the court would then order their convictions and arrest records expunged and purged from all state and federal systems.

"And you get the actual innocence, and that's what a lot of exonerees would truly want," said Tapp. "I am just honored and happy that Representative Ricks is going forward with this."

The bill would create an Innocence Fund in the State Treasurer’s Office.

So how much would it cost state taxpayers? If all four eligible exonerations that happened in Idaho over the last 30 years were to get compensated, the maximum impact would be a one-time $3.69 million.

"I'm just happy for that for the next individual who gets released from prison -- that they'll have something, hopefully, in place to make their lives better and easier," said Tapp.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives Judiciary, Rules, and Administration Committee voted without objection to introduce the bill, meaning the bill will get a full hearing later.

Those eligible would also be able to seek non-monetary relief like health insurance, mental health counseling and assistance with tuition, housing, finding a job and medical expenses.