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In September, Chris Tapp recorded an interview with “Dateline” at his Idaho home.

He had served 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and the interview was the last time he planned on publicly discussing the 1996 murder of his friend Angie Dodge — the 18-year-old Idaho woman whom Tapp was wrongfully convicted of killing.

Tapp didn’t want to be remembered as the man from the Angie Dodge case, he said, but rather as an advocate — someone who, after his 2019 exoneration, pushed lawmakers in his state and others to provide fair compensation to people who have been wrongfully convicted.

“I have to move forward,” he said.  

But what came next was “incomprehensible,” as a local journalist put it. 

For more on the case, tune into “True Confession” on “Dateline” at 9 ET/8 CT tonight.

Six weeks after the interview, Tapp, 47, died after he was rushed to a hospital from his Resorts World suite in Las Vegas, a spokesperson for Tapp’s family told “Dateline.” His death was initially described as an accident, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said, but the Clark County Coroner’s Office later ruled it a homicide. 

Authorities have released few details on the incident. No suspects have been publicly identified, and the department has not discussed a possible motive. 

To George Pahis, who knew Tapp for three decades, the arc of his close friend’s life was tragic: He’d gone from “failing through life” as a kid to losing 20 years behind bars. Then, he’d been “gifted” a new life and was living free from worry, Pahis said.  

“Chris’ life being cut short is the exact opposite of what anyone expected from Chris,” Pahis told “Dateline.” 

“Chris had expectations. Chris had dreams. Chris had ideas of what he was gonna do for the rest of forever. And it was taken from him,” Pahis said.

Confessing under pressure 

Tapp was charged with first-degree murder in February 1997, roughly eight months after Dodge’s body was discovered in her Idaho Falls apartment. She had been raped and nearly decapitated, authorities said. 

Dateline

Tapp and Dodge were part of a group that often hung out by the Snake River, and he initially told police that he didn’t know anything about the crime, interview transcripts show. But after multiple polygraph tests and additional interviews with investigators, Tapp — then 20 — confessed to participating in the rape and murder and implicated two other “River rats,” as the group was known, the transcripts show.

One of the friends was accused, though the charges were later dismissed, according to an account of Tapp’s case in the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations. A jury convicted Tapp in 1998, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

In 2012, Tapp told “Dateline” that when he offered his false confession, he’d only been trying to appease police and tell them what he believed they wanted to hear. By then, the Idaho Innocence Project had taken up his case, and Dodge’s mother had come to believe the man who had been convicted of killing her daughter was likely innocent. 

When Carol Dodge watched videos of Tapp’s interrogation, there were times when “I wanted to put my fist through the TV,” she told “Dateline.”

When Tapp appeared to know little about Dodge’s apartment, for instance, she was stunned to see investigators show him crime scene images. Steve Drizin, a clinical professor of law at Northwestern University and co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, reviewed videos of the confession at Carol Dodge’s request and told “Dateline” it was the “worst example of police contamination” and “fact-feeding” that he’d ever seen.

In an interview with “Dateline,” the investigators denied feeding Tapp details of the crime. But in 2017, after Tapp’s lawyer alleged that his client had been coerced, the prosecutor’s office reached an agreement to vacate Tapp’s rape conviction and reduce the sentence in his murder conviction to time served, according to the registry. 

A DNA match

Tapp was still guilty of murder, according to the terms of the agreement, but the deal meant he could be released from prison. 

“That was one of the hardest decisions of my life, to continue to have to say I was convicted of a first-degree murder I know I didn’t do,” Tapp told “Dateline.” But “I had to move on with my life. And that was the only opportunity I had so I took it with the best ability that I had.”

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