False Confessions and the Fifth Amendment

Criminal Defense Attorneys Serving Fairfax, Leesburg & Manassas, Virginia

Posted: May 19, 2019
Authored by:
Police questioning a male with brown hair

In June 1996, 18 year old Angie Dodge from Idaho Falls, Idaho was murdered.  Police found Dodge’s half naked body with multiple stab wounds, her throat cut, and evidence of rape.   The tragedy, however, was perpetuated by the fact that two innocent men were accused of the murder.

With no leads for 6 months,  local detectives became frustrated with a case that was quickly turning cold.  They resorted to questioning an acquaintance of Dodge’s, Ben Hobbs, who had been arrested for suspicion of rape previously.

Detectives then began investigating a few of Hobbs’ friends, and eventually placed their focus on 20 year old Christopher Tapp. Even though DNA evidence found at the crime scene did not match Tapp, detectives proceeded to interrogate Tapp for over 28 hours within the following 3 weeks.

With no lawyer present, a tired and frightened Tapp began to agree with the detective’s narrative.  They convinced Tapp to admit that he had been in Dodge’s apartment the night of the murder and had helped hold her down when Dodge was killed.

Christopher Tapp went to trial for the murder of Angie Dodge in May of 1998. Though his criminal defense lawyers argued that none of the DNA at the scene was a match and that the detectives had coerced a false confession, Tapp was convicted of aiding and abetting rape and murder. Tapp was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 30 years to serve.

It is important to know that police do not need to read a person Miranda Rights unless the person is arrested and in custody. If a person is at the police station answering questions because they were “invited” or they just volunteered to help in an investigation, any statements provided to the police may be used against the person at trial.  Police officers and detectives are trained to keep a person feeling as if they need to keep talking or bad things will happen if they leave a voluntary interview.  The minutes of a “voluntary” interview can turn into hours or even days.  Police are trained to use a person’s lack of sleep, fear of losing friends and family, hunger, and confusion against a person in order to obtain statements the police believe can solve a case.

Whenever this situation may occur – a voluntary or invitation to speak to the police – it is important to remember that if you are free to leave – leave immediately, and do not make any statements without having your own lawyer present.

That is why the attorneys of The Gordon Law Firm always recommend that before a person volunteers to help the police or submit to a voluntary interview, he or she consult with an attorney.  Your attorney’s job is to look after your best interests.  Most times, the detective is interested in only resolving the case and does not care about your interests.

In 2017, after 20 years in prison, lawyers working with the Idaho Innocence Project https://innocenceproject.boisestate.edu were able to have Tapp released from prison through a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for keeping the “aiding and abetting murder” conviction, he would be released and would have the “aiding and abetting rape” conviction dropped.

Detectives, prosecutors, and even Angie Dodge’s own mother, knew that Christopher Tapp had been wrongly accused and that he had been convicted in an unfair trial.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Falls police still did not have a murderer to hold accountable. In 2014, investigators submitted the DNA sample from the crime scene to a genealogy database. 41 possible matches were returned, with one being a very close match. By way of a search warrant, Ancestry.com, the database’s owner, was forced to give investigators the name of the potential match. The name that they were given was the father of a filmmaker living in New Orleans, Michael Usry.

Investigators began to look into Mr. Usry’s life, including his connection to people in Idaho and into films he had made.  One movie he produced even included homicide and a girl’s murder.

Michael Usry voluntarily went to the police department for questioning without knowing he was the current suspect for a murder that had taken place 18 years prior, in a state he had only visited.  Fortunately, this time the suspect insisted upon his innocence.  By January 2015, Mr. Usry was cleared of the crime based on testing of a DNA sample he was forced to give to the police.

On  May 15, 2019, Idaho police finally made an arrest based on an exact DNA match. A Virginia DNA laboratory was able to narrow a DNA sample down to Brian Dripps, Sr., a 53 year old man who was living in Idaho Falls at the time of the murder.  The exact DNA match came from DNA left on a cigarette butt Dripps had recently thrown away and DNA found at the crime scene.

This case is definitive proof that when someone is being interviewed by law enforcement or accused of a crime, that it is critically important to have skilled and effective representation by an experienced criminal defense lawyer like Alex Gordon or Carlos Wall.

Feel welcome to call to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION if you are ever in the circumstance that you are to be interviewed or questioned by the police before you have been arrested.  We will help you understand the risks and the potential charges against you and how our law firm will fight to protect your rights.

The Gordon Law Firm has helped thousands of Virginians faced with serious felony offenses, misdemeanors,  DUI, reckless driving and other criminal charges. Let us help you today.

To learn more about the Innocence Project and the great work they do, visit https://www.innocenceproject.org.

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