This editorial was published by the Post Register of Idaho Falls.
Bart Davis is a son of Idaho Falls.
Today, his hometown needs him.
Davis served this community long and faithfully as our state senator. Any who know him know that he is a man who proceeds carefully, deliberately and guided by principle.
Davis is now U.S. attorney, the top law enforcement official in this state. He oversees both federal prosecutors and the local branches of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including its civil rights division, which investigates police misconduct.
Destiny Osborne, the key witness in the conviction of Chris Tapp, recently recanted her testimony to the Post Register. She claims that police fed her a story, even that they showed her a portion of Tapp’s taped confession.
That’s significant because, with no physical evidence or witnesses or anything other than Tapp’s confession linking him to the murder of Angie Dodge, Osborne’s testimony provided the primary corroboration for Tapp’s confession. Prosecutors used the agreement between Osborne’s testimony and Tapp’s confession to convince the jury that it was true, even though none of the physical evidence at the scene pointed to Tapp.
Tapp has long said that he was coerced into giving a false confession and that he repeated a story police fed him. There is a substantial body of evidence to support this claim, on which this newspaper has reported extensively over the last five years.
There is not proof of police wrongdoing 23 years ago in this case, but there are enough disturbing details now known to suggest that something terrible may have happened in the 1990s in Idaho Falls.
There may be ongoing harm. Two men, Michael Whiteley and Lanny Smith — who have been in prison longer than Tapp was, who were convicted around the same time as Tapp and on whose cases many of the same individuals worked — have long asserted that they too are innocent. These are the cases we know of.
Many have escaped justice. The man who killed Angie Dodge did for decades. And so did any who, either knowingly or blinded by zeal, pushed Tapp or Osborne to give false testimony about her murder.
We continue to have confidence in the integrity of Chief Bryce Johnson and the men and women of today’s Idaho Falls Police Department. They have found a man whose DNA matches that at the crime scene and secured a confession from him. They cracked a 23-year-old case that seemed impossible to solve. This is in addition to solving another seemingly hopeless case just weeks before.
Osborne’s recantation does not diminish those accomplishments, or the countless hours they spent chasing down leads only to find they went nowhere, or the vital daily work of keeping us all safe.
To allow anger over the conduct of certain officers 23 years ago to spill over into a generalized antipolice sentiment would be both unjustified and counterproductive. Rather, the conduct of specific officers who worked on this case prior to Tapp’s conviction should be put to close scrutiny.
No rational person would say that any agency ought to be in charge of investigating its own predecessors. A neutral third party ought to do that. It cannot be a coincidence that at the moment when Idaho Falls is in greatest need of such an independent party, Davis occupies the station he does.
What Tapp and Osborne each allege is that they were fed the same story by many of the same former officers, and then Osborne’s story was used to corroborate Tapp’s. And now there is a man who lived across the street, whose DNA matches the killer’s, who has confessed to committing the crime alone.
What this suggests is terrifying.
Given recent developments, we ask Davis to open an investigation led by the civil rights division of the FBI to look into the conduct of police leading up to the 1998 Tapp conviction and similar cases in the same time period.
Answers — and accountability — are necessary for this city to heal.