Wrongful conviction bill passes Idaho House, heads to the governor

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

A bill that would compensate people who are wrongfully convicted of a crime is headed to the governor for signature, after unanimously passing both the Senate and the House.

Gov. Brad Little vetoed a similar bill last year, but sponsors expect him to sign this version after addressing his prior concerns.

If it becomes law, the bill would provide $62,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, or $75,000 per year served on death row. Anyone forced to wrongfully serve parole on the sex offender registry would be provided an additional $25,000 per year. 

Exonerated people would be given a two-year window to file a claim from the time they were formally exonerated by a court. According to the bill’s statement of purpose, which cites the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been six exonerations in Idaho in the last 30 years. Four of those six would be eligible for compensation under this bill. One of the four is Chris Tapp, who was at the Statehouse on Tuesday.

Prior to the House’s vote on Tuesday, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, noted that Tapp was in the gallery with his wife. Tapp was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of an Idaho Falls woman named Angie Dodge. Tapp was exonerated in July 2019 after serving 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. 

In her remarks on the floor, Ehardt, who is sponsoring the bill, said she knew the victim’s mother.

Tapp was wrongfully convicted in Dodge’s death in 1998 after police coerced him into a false confession. Tapp was only exonerated after DNA evidence in the case led to the May 2019 arrest of Caldwell man Brian Dripps Sr. Earlier this month, Dripps pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Dodge, according to court records.

While she said she could not give Tapp 20 years of his life back, Ehardt argued the Wrongful Conviction Act would allow the state to do something for these people.

“It is incumbent on us to make it right,” said Ehardt. “It is something that we can do.”

Another man who could be eligible for compensation would be Charles Fain, who wrongfully spent 18 years on death row in Idaho before he was exonerated in 2001. Fain was falsely accused of the 1982 rape and killing of 9-year-old Daralyn Johnson in Nampa. But in May 2020, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office named David Dalrymple as a new suspect. By then, Dalrymple was already in prison for other abusive criminal convictions.

In 2004, three years after Fain was released, Dalrymple was convicted of his first felonies, including kidnapping and sexual abuse. The Ada County judge who sentenced him said in court that Dalrymple was beyond hope for rehabilitation. (Read more on the Idaho Statesman’s website.)

Dalrymple’s trial for Johnson’s murder hasn’t yet been set. He remains incarcerated for other convictions.

During Tuesday’s debate, Ehardt referenced both Tapp and Fain on the House floor Tuesday. She said both of the men would likely trade all of the potential compensation to have their lives back.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, apologized to Tapp for the injustice he endured and said she appreciated his grace when released.

“There is no way to make this whole, but money is the only currency we have to rectify the situation,” Rubel said in the House. 

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