Wrong Man season 1, episode 5 recap: ‘Christopher Tapp: The Confession’


Episode 5 of Starz’ Wrong Man introduces the Christopher Tapp case, where a coerced confession imprisoned a man whose DNA didn’t match the crime scene.

On June 13th, 1996, Angie Dodge was brutally murdered and sexually assaulted in her apartment in Idaho Falls, Idaho. It shocked the town, and people understandably wanted justice.

Still, in every single murder case, it should be understood that finding the perpetrator(s) takes time if it is to happen at all. When people rush things, they can make mistakes. Investigators can even lock into a narrative after finding a favorite suspect, rather than look into the evidence.

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That’s what seems to have happened with Christopher Tapp, and Wrong Man doesn’t have to look hard to show it.

Of all the cases on Wrong Man, this one’s the closest to immediately proving that authorities got it wrong. It’s not entirely surprising, either. Sometimes in a murder case, suspicions are misguided.

A person can have a criminal record, a violent past, or even knew the victim, but still not be the murderer in question. For example, in the Angie Dodge case, Benn Hobbs could have been a strong suspect.

He knew Dodge and is currently in prison on an unrelated knifepoint rape charge. However, Ben Hobbs’ DNA didn’t match in the Dodge case, meaning there’s no evidence to convict him for it.

Regarding Christopher Tapp, the only evidence against him was a coerced confession.
In fact, he wasn’t alone in being intimidated (or interrogated) into confessing. One of Tapp’s buddies, Jeremy Sargis, was also badgered by interrogators and told he must confess knowledge of the crime (which he probably didn’t have).

Sargis wasn’t easily bullied, however, and was saved by always pleading the 5th Amendment in court. According to Mr. Sargis, if Christopher Tapp had done that, he wouldn’t be in prison today.

Signs of False Confession, Cleared of DNA Links, and No Other Evidence

Everything about the interrogation was a disaster. Wrong Man‘s Ron Kuby notes that Christopher’s attorneys weren’t even in the interrogation room, which is a total no-no. It’s often understood that, in criminal investigations, people shouldn’t talk without a lawyer present.

This is done precisely to avoid things like false confession, or unjustly incriminating one’s self. In fact, one technically isn’t obligated to answer any questions at all! Tapp, on the other hand, agreed to take a polygraph and did everything he could to make the cops happy.

Wrong Man’s Sue-Ann Robinson discussing the Tapp case. (Wrong Man, Starz)

The interrogations were filmed, and one can definitely see something wrong with them. Steve Drizin, Legal Director at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, says it’s the worst coerced interrogation he’s ever watched.

Then, in addition to wearing Tapp down, they crafted an immunity deal and used it as a cudgel to manipulate him. Tapp eventually confessed involvement, due to the immunity deal for ratting out either Jeremy Sargis or Ben Hobbs.

10 days into the investigation, crime scene DNA tests matched neither Tapp nor Ben Hobbs. Then, after further interrogation, DNA tests also cleared Jeremy Sargis. In other words, none of the three young men were demonstrably at the crime scene! Another amazing thing?

Chris was told to name Jeremy Sargis by the interrogator, but they rescinded Christopher’s immunity agreement because Jeremy was cleared! This left Tapp as the main suspect, even though there was no physical evidence whatsoever tying him to the scene. There were more missteps than one could count!

The police even fed Chris facts about murder scene so he could confess, rather than let him volunteer info only the killer could know. It was a guided confession, basically. Then they took Chris to the crime scene — which was bad enough — and didn’t record the visit. Why wouldn’t they do that? No tape recorder? No video? It seems like a botched procedure.

It’s also suggested that, because he was a trusting sort, Chris didn’t know that police can legally lie during interrogations. When suspects don’t know that, it can cause a loss of confidence in a suspect’s memories — a sort of “does not compute” moment, if you will. Just as violent torture can create false admissions, so can deceit and fatigue.

Could Christopher Tapp Be Guilty? Most Certainly Not

As stated before, this is the easiest episode to agree with that, yes, they got the wrong man. He even superficially looks innocent, according to Danny Smith, a retired Homicide Detective for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Smith says Tapp’s body language indicates he was being truthful. While this isn’t infallible evidence of innocence, it won’t hurt any.

Still, incredibly, Christopher Tapp has been in prison for 20 years, despite there being no murder weapon, no DNA and no witnesses. When the court decided not to suppress the coerced confession, that was it for Chris. As “Wrong Man” notes, most Jurors don’t understand why someone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit.

It’s understandable why, as it seems strange, if not stupid. However, it happens. Here it undoubtedly happened. In fact, the Judge himself said, had Tapp not confessed, he wouldn’t have been convicted.

If that’s not enough, Angie Dodge’s own mother — who originally condemned Tapp — changed her mind after watching the interrogation tapes. She is convinced that Chris is innocent and that investigators wronged him, and herself.

The Investigation that Might Have Been

This case is effectively still unsolved, even though someone’s in prison for it. Why weren’t more leads pursued? There were some available. For example, although Danny Smith believes it wasn’t a “drug hit,” even that would be more plausible than Tapp, at this point.

Another possible lead? An Idaho Falls woman claims that, near the time of the murder, someone peeping tom’d her as she was doing laundry. For whatever reason, the cops ignored it and didn’t find it relevant to the sex-murder crime.

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Also, according to Wrong Man, the investigators didn’t do a good neighborhood canvass.  In other words, they focused almost entirely on Tapp and his pals, which means some rapist/murderer may still be out there today.

What are your thoughts? Is there any compelling evidence against Christopher Tapp whatsoever? Feel free to discuss it in the comments!