Tuesday, April 1, 2008

READ THIS FIRST: Seeking closure of Angie Dodge's brutal murder case

All I have ever wanted is the truth and closure. I want to know how my daughter died, who was there, why it happened. It is distressing to watch convicted rapist & murderer Christoper Tapp try to convince the justice system that he is innocent, and frustrating that Tapp has refused to give up any significant information about others involved in crimes. — Carol Dodge

IDAHO FALLS - A bright yellow crocus breaks through the earth in an east-facing garden. Soft green grass appears on a neighbor's lawn. Flocks of geese and ducks fill the sky over the Snake River with their raucous cries.

Every day, another sign of spring brings joy to the people of this Idaho community who experienced a long, cold, winter this year. But since the spring of 1997, Idaho Falls resident Carol Dodge has not greeted spring like most other city residents who start making plans for a fun summer in this beautiful area of America.

Every spring marks another year that the brutal rape and murder of her daughter, Angie Raye Dodge, remains unsolved. And while people flock to the greenbelt to walk the trails along the river, Dodge goes there to remember her daughter. A marker is there to honor Angie and remind others that the community has numerous unsolved murders and missing people. Each brings daily heartbreak to the victims' loved ones. Each makes the community feel unsettled and unsafe.

Angie Raye Dodge was a beautiful young woman, with bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and a vibrant personality. She graduated from Idaho Falls High School with the class of 1995. In high school she participated in track, honor society, and the Renaissance Club, an organization honoring academic achievers. Her friends describe her as upbeat, outgoing, likable, and caring.

Her life, so full of promise and potential, was snuffed out by evil when she was raped and murdered in her Idaho Falls apartment on I Street, not far from the greenbelt, early in the morning of June 13, 1996. She was 18 years old.

This week, Carol Dodge is already wondering how she will handle the 12th anniversary of her daughter's death, now less than three months away. It's as raw a hurt today as it was the day she was told about the murder, especially so because the one person convicted of the rape and murder is now claiming he was unjustly convicted and is asking for a new trial.

Christopher Tapp is serving a life sentence for the crimes, but claims in a civil suit that his attorney did not adequately represent him.

Bonneville County Prosecutor Bruce Pickett wants Tapp's case dismissed. At a March 19 hearing, 7th District Judge Joel Tingey gave Tapp's attorney, John Stosich of Idaho Falls, 15 days to present evidence against granting 's Pickett's request.

Pickett will then have seven days to refute Stosich's arguments, and then Judge Tingey can take up to 30 days to make a decision.

In a detailed, graphic, videotaped confession in January 1997, Tapp told police investigators he held Angie down while a man named Benjamin Hobbs and a person he knew only as "Mike," raped her. Tapp told detective Jared Fuhriman, now the mayor of Idaho Falls, that Hobbs forced him to stab Angie. He also testified that Hobbs slit the young woman's throat. Angie's neck was nearly severed from her body.

DNA evidence has not been linked to Hobbs, so Tapp was the only person charged in the crimes. District Judge Ted Wood sentenced him to 30 years to life in prison.

Carol Dodge said it was "extremely difficult" to see Tapp in court last week. She said it is distressing to watch Tapp try to convince the justice system that he is innocent, and frustrating that Tapp has refused to give up any significant information about others involved in the rape and murder.

Dodge notes that it is unfortunate that convicted rapists and murderers like Tapp can sit in prison year after year and talk themselves out of taking responsibility for their actions and attempt to convince others of their innocence. It is hard on the legal system and horribly tough on the victims families.

"All I have ever wanted is the truth and closure," she says. "I want to know how my daughter died, who was there, why it happened."

This is the second time the prosecutor's office has filed a motion to dismiss Tapp's civil case. Tingey granted Pickett's earlier motion to dismiss on seven points. But he ruled that there is validity to Stosich's argument that the jury might not have gotten an accurate picture of Tapp's mental condition, and that Tapp's lawyer failed to allow Tapp to testify and didn't introduce evidence of a learning disability Tapp may have.

Pickett argued that the videotapes show that Tapp was aware of the seriousness of the charges he was facing, and knew his rights.

Dodge says Tapp describes the murder and rape in horrific detail, so much so that any claims that he was repeating anything he had heard from another person cannot be true.

Tingey could rule that Tapp received a fair trial and sentence. If he rules there was a problem with the sentence, another hearing would be scheduled. If he rules that Tapp didn't receive a fair trial, Tapp's conviction would be vacated. The state would then have to decide whether or not to bring new charges against him.

Dodge says it's agonizing to think that Tapp would ever be set free.

But that's just one of many aspects of the case that haunt her constantly. An even bigger problem for Dodge is the lack of regional and national exposure the case has had from day one.

Today, television is awash with shows hosted by personalities like Nancy Grace, Geraldo, Oprah, and Greta Van Susteren, and news specials that reenact unsolved cases, and give enormous attention to unsolved murders and missing persons cases. Sometimes this leads to arrests, convictions, and to finding lost people - to the closure Dodge so passionately seeks. But her daughter's case has had local coverage only, for the most part.

Dodge believes there are people alive today who could help bring complete closure to the crime, verifying Tapp's confession and identifying others who were directly and indirectly involved. Some of these people may have known Angie, Tapp, and others who frequented the greenbelt and lived in Angie's neighborhood. They may have moved away from Idaho Falls before the crime was committed and, due to the lack of publicity about the case, may never have heard about the rape and murder.

Or, perhaps they were involved in drugs and other risky behavior at that time, as Tapp was, and never came forward out of fear. But now they may be on a better path in life and want to come clean about what they know, Dodge says.

As the 12th anniversary of Angie's death approaches, Dodge has renewed her efforts to find a media outlet to publicize the case in hopes of finding people who can help her find that long sought closure.

Also of great concern to Dodge is frustration with those who investigated the crime scene and interviewed witnesses. Idaho Falls police did the typical thing of first looking for suspects among family members. Dodge says this wasted valuable time.

The Dodge family also charges that investigators did not handle all the physical evidence properly. For example, Dodge was given some items that were in her daughter's apartment. She put them in storage, not having the heart to go through them. But after some time had passed, a friend helped Dodge open the storage containers. Dodge said they were shocked to find substantial physical evidence that demonstrated a violent act. Police were notified and an investigator cut some of this evidence from the items and claims to have taken it to a lab. Dodge has never heard the results.

Also puzzling is that the city of Idaho Falls claims it has no taped records of any 911 calls the night of the murder. Dodge says this means there is no evidence that Angie had tried to call for help.

Dodge is also angry that the crime scene was released within the 24- hour period after the discovery of Angie's death. Reports state that Angie's body was taken from the crime scene at 5:05 p. m. However. the chief of police released the crime scene shortly after 10 a.m. the following morning to the owner of the apartment building.

"Less than a 24-hour crime scene investigation on a brutal murder?" says Dodge.

The owner then called a cleaning and restoration service that painted the walls and removed the carpet. Dodge said she contacted this service and was told that investigators had not removed any pieces of the carpet. Knowing that the carpet could have held physical evidence, Dodge asked investigators why no samples were taken. She later learned that after she had called the investigators, they contacted the cleaning service to obtain a carpet sample, and the service said the carpet had been hauled to the landfill.

Dodge also said that the police department removed a wallet that was found in a shoebox taken from the crime scene at Angie's apartment. However the wallet belonged to someone that a police department employee knew. This wallet was released to the owner's father immediately. The young man was interviewed, and he claimed he had lost the wallet outdoors, he barely knew Angie, and she must have found it on the ground. Dodge questions the legality of releasing any evidences within the first 72 hours into a murder investigation.

Because Angie had known Tapp, although not well, and Tapp was in a circle of people who were known to have been playing around with drugs, Angie's autopsy included a toxicology report. It was clean for drugs and alcohol. Although some may say Angie may have been involved in some risky behavior on a limited basis, it is more likely that she would have encouraged others to stop using drugs. Angie was an honor student and a hard worker with specific goals she hoped to achieve, Dodge notes.

However, some say Angie seemed troubled and withdrawn a week or so before her death. In fact the night Angie was murdered, Carol said, Angie came and visited with her for a few hours and Carol recalls those lasts moments of seeing Angie alive. Angie pulled out of the drive-way at 10:24 p. m. Carol will be forever grateful for her last words to Angie, which were, "I love you.

During that visit, Angie told Carol she had "done something stupid," Carol says. Carol replied that everyone does stupid things sometimes, and Angie replied that she had done something "really stupid." Carol said she did not press her daughter for an explanation. She said Angie also told her she wanted to get out of town and planned to visit her father the next day. He was working in security at Colter Bay on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

Later, Carol learned that Angie had gone to Stucki's Gas station after their visit, and Angie told a friend there that if she did not have to work the next morning at Beauty of all Seasons, she would leave right then, because she needed to get out of town. This was at 10:45 p. m. on June 12.

Dodge said some of Angie's friends recalled that Angie seemed quiet and withdrawn at times during the two weeks before the murder.

Also not long before her death, Angie had taken a short plane trip out of Idaho Falls. What happened on that plane trip, and who else may have been involved in the trip, could be clues to solving the crimes, Dodge says. Dodge said an airport security person who knew Angie saw Angie at the airport shortly after 5 p. m. a week or two prior to her death, wearing a long skirt and Birkenstock sandals, carrying a backpack, and appearing to be happy. And, she saw Angie return that same night. Dodge said investigators never followed up on that plane trip, to her knowledge.

This is another reason why giving the case regional and national exposure could help. Maybe a flight attendant, airport worker, ticket salesperson, or other passenger remembers seeing Angie and knows the flight's destination. Maybe they saw Angie with another person at the airport or on the plane.

Another concern is that there were tips that a confidential informer working with narcotics agents was part of Tapp's crowd.

Idaho Falls investigators have often reported that they did not think drugs were involved in the case, or that the murder was premeditated. Dodge said she has always felt uncomfortable with this because the investigators know that some of the people Angie hung out with were involved with drugs. Angie's anxiety prior to her murder also implies that she feared she was in danger.

In an early story on the case, the Post Register reports that one detective said the case is "frustrating because people who might have valuable information about the murder are in the local drug culture and are not likely to speak to police." But then the detective went on to say he did not believe the murder was drugrelated.

Investigators interviewed around 200 people, once they got through with the family, said Dodge. These included Angie's friends and strangers who hung out in the neighborhood and on the greenbelt.

More than 75 DNA samples were taken from people who were interviewed. In 2007, a Florida laboratory determined that whoever raped Angie was 96 percent Caucasian and 4 percent Asian.

When the DNA results were announced, Detective Capt. Roger Smart of the Idaho Falls Police Department said, "It is basically a cold case, but it is not a closed case. We run down every piece of information we get."

Benjamin Hobbs - the man Tapp says slit Angie's throat - has never admitted any role in the rape and murder. Hobbs is in prison in Ely, NV. for first degree kidnapping, sexual assault, and battery with a deadly weapon committed in January 1997 on a young woman from Nevada. Hobbs is originally from Las Vegas Nevada, and lived in Idaho Falls at the time of Angie's death.

Again, because of the lack of regional and national exposure to the case, someone may be out there who knew Hobbs before he was arrested for the Nevada crime and could link him to Angie's murder.

Dodge said it has also been difficult to accept that in June, 2001, Bonneville County Prosecutor Kipp Manwaring decided to not pursue an accessory charge against Jeremy Sargis, formerly of Idaho Falls.

Sargis faced the accessory charge in 1997 after he was accused of withholding information about Dodge' s murder from authorities. The charge was dismissed after Manwaring said he would seek the charge again at the end of convicted murderer Christopher Tapp' s court hearings, according to court records.

Sargis testified at Tapp' s 1997 preliminary hearing on murder and rape charges, but he pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked questions.

Dodge was found dead in her bedroom by a co-worker from the Beauty For All Seasons company, who was concerned that she had not come to work. There was no sign of forced entry into the apartment. There were signs of a short struggle. Dodge's landlady, who lives downstairs, told police she did not hear anything unusual Wednesday night, just a stereo playing in the early evening.

Angie had moved into the apartment around a month before her death, and had no roommates.

Until just before her death, she worked part-time at Stucki's, and then at Beauty For All Seasons.

In the early days of the investigation, some of Angie's friends said Angie had learned that her thenboyfriend, Christian Grebstad, had been in touch with an ex-girlfriend.

Grebstad had dated Angie for around six weeks, until just before her murder, and was reported in a Post Register story as having said he's "still in shock" about her death. The relationship ended when Angie found a letter Grebstad had written to his ex-girlfriend and got the wrong impression, he said.

The morning after Tapp's March 19 hearing, Dodge said she was losing hope. The stress has affected her health - she has had four heart attacks. She has driven thousands of miles following leads gleaned from various sources, including the Web site, www.angiedodge.com .

She has been down from time to time for almost 12 years now. But she is a woman of inspiring, amazing determination, strength, and love. She always picks herself up and finds a seed of hope planted in her strong faith in God. Someday, justice will triumph.

A cash award is available for people who have information that leads to a conviction. If you know anything about Angie Raye Dodge's case, call the Idaho Falls Police Department's detectives division at 529-1416. You also can call Crime Stoppers at 522-1983 and give a tip anonymously.

You can also e-mail Carol at caroldodge@hotmail.com.

Photo - Angie Dodge