Dateline   |  August 24, 2012

The Confession, Part 1

The murder of an 18-year old woman leads detectives on a months-long search for her killer in a small Idaho city. Dateline NBC's Keith Morrison reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> welcome to "dateline," everyone. i'm lester holt . a police interrogation videotape, it can play a big part in any case. but rarely the way it does in tonight's story. for the mom you're about to meet, already grieving for her dead daughter, the tape revealed something almost as shocking as the murder itself. you're about to see what that was, and when you do, i'd like you to ask yourself, what would you have done about it? here's keith morrison .

>> reporter: they keep him in here, deep inside the multiple walls and the armed doors and the rolls and rolls of razor wire, the confessed stabber, the convicted killer of that sweet young woman , all those years ago. he's lucky to be alive, probably, given the nature of the crime and the appeal from that girl's mother for the death sentence . which makes what that mother tells us about him now very puzzling indeed.

>> let him go. it is the only thing his mother has. it is her only child. let him go.

>> reporte

>> reporter: her name is carol dodge and the amazing story she will tell us tonight began on the worst day of her life. it was a thursday, june 13th , 1996 , midmorning. she placed a call to a beauty salon , to talk to her daughter angie .

>> i dialed angie 's number at work. and a lady answered. i said, this is carol dodge, angie 's mom. she said, angie 's been found dead.

>> reporter: just over the phone?

>> i remember saying, god, no, please, no. this can't be real.

>> reporter: happened it turned out the night before, in the tiny second floor walkup where the independent 18-year-old had just started to build her life. stabbed to death, her throat cut, and carol was haunted by a conversation she had with angie that very week.

>> that's what she said to me, you know, mom, i've done something really stupid.

>> reporter: did you say to her, what did you do?

>> no, i didn't want to pry.

>> reporter: what could it have been, that something stupid? could it lead to murder? idaho falls , idaho, big blue heaven above, dazzling white mormon temple below to anchor the town, and signal like a beacon its moral core of american virtue. fine place to raise a family, three dodge boys and one girl named angie , whose birth occasion brother brent remembers, the biggest celebration of all.

>> that was great for my parents to have a baby girl .

>> reporter: she learned about independence early on, she grew up busy and strong, and stubborn.

>> nobody got in her face because she would take care of you.

>> reporter: wasn't a wee petite thing?

>> she was 5'11" and she was strong.

>> reporter: but, of course, big can be a problem for a girl. as a teenager, she was too tall, too awkward, she struggled. and to make it worse, her parents' marriage fell apart.

>> that's when angie went and just made friends with whoever accepted her.

>> reporter: among angie 's new friends was jessica martinez.

>> we both had very poor image because we had weight problems. and wanted to be accepted not for what we looked like, but for the people that we were.

>> reporter: jessica had since turned out fine, of course, but back then carol worried a lot about the new friends, didn't know, like angie , had big plans.

>> she wanted to go to college and just be the best person she could be.

>> reporter: now suddenly, in this little apartment, angie 's life was over. and carol grief stricken and dazed endured a murder investigation.

>> we clearly thought that there was some sort of relationship there, because it was a crime of passion .

>> reporter: jared fuhriman and ken brown were, back then, detectives in the idaho falls pd. angie 's boyfriend was out of town. her other friends had alibis too. so they turned to the physical evidence , like this bloody hand print on angie 's stomach. must have been left after she was dead, they figured, when her killer did something that was quite beyond sick, pulled down her pants, pulled up her shirt, left a deposit of semen on her body, his mark, and his dna .

>> there is a lost anger, a lot of humiliation involved in this.

>> reporter: and frustration for the cops because that dna didn't match any of their possible suspects. month after month, they chased leads into disappointing dead ends and all the while carol dodge haunted the investigation, practically stalked the detectives, desperate for information, begging them, find the killer.

>> i drove to the police department every day that they were open.

>> reporter: and then one day, seven months late, dead of winter , january '97, an arrest next door in nevada broke the case wide open . in custody was a young man named benjamin hobbs , one of those less savory friends of angie 's. here he is at angie 's funeral carrying flowers. get this, hobbs was now charged with sexually assaulting a woman at knife point. sound familiar? so while detective ken brown rushed off to question hobbs , detective jared fuhriman began talking to hobbs ' friends.

>> why do you think you're down here?

>> honestly, i have no idea.

>> reporter: one of whom was a 20-year-old named christopher tapp. tapp was no felon, but was an admitted druggee and what do you know, chris tapp had a bit of a history with ex-school resource officer, now detective fuhriman.

>> he was in trouble a time or two?

>> he was. just trying to help him out.

>> i trust you and hopefully you trust me, okay.

>> reporter: he trusted fuhriman. but didn't know anything, he said, about angie 's murder.

>> if i did know anything about this, i would say, but i do not know. that's the honest truth.

>> reporter: and having made his statement, christopher tapp went home, in the clear, apparently. couple of days later, the detectives asked him to come downtown again.

>> i told him, i said what are you doing this is a murder case.

>> reporter: this is tapp's mother, vera, she understaood what he apparently did not, he was possibly talking himself into very big trouble .

>> he said, mom, i don't have anything to hide an i want to them that i don't know anything.

>> reporter: but it didn't quite work out that way. before long, chris tapp had written a statement for police saying ben hobbs said he killed her and i laughed it off like he was just telling me a joke. but that was just the beginning. over the next several weeks they had tapp in here nine times, questioned him 20 hours. even gave him an immunity deal and that is when mr. tapp's story began to evolve. yes, he admitted he was there, but then hobbs killed angie , even held her down, he admitted, when ben stabbed her and finally, he said, eeven stabbed her once himself. the motive? revenge. apparently angeli has been meddling in the marriage. t the police asked him a question about angie .

>> was she raped the night she was killed?

>> i don't know. that's why i'm asking you. if she was, my dna will prove my innocence right there.

>> reporter: and lo and behold, he was right. that dna result came back, and the semen found on angie 's body didn't belong to ben hobbs or chris tapp. neither one of them. what went through your heads when the dna results came back and it showed that the attacker was not ben hobbs ?

>> if you nail it down to one word, frustration.

>> reporter: but the detectives decided that didn't mean chris was lying or that the theory of the crime was wrong. it could only mean, they decided, they needed to expand the theory. ben hobbs and chris tapp were guilty, they were sure of it. so that mystery dna must have come from a third man, a third attacker. so they put tapp back in the interrogation room and asked him was a third man involved in the crime? and sure enough, chris tapp said, yes, there was a third man. but no matter how many times detectives asked, he couldn't or wouldn't tell them who it was. the prosecutors made a decision, if tapp wasn't going to tell them the whole truth, he wouldn't get his deal. chris tapp was charged with murder, but only chris . not enough evidence to go after hobbs or anyone else. the announcement caught carol dodge by surprise. detectives had kept her in the dark until now. but one look at christopher tapp in court and she knew she wanted him dead.

>> it was finally looking, somebody in the eye, i thought was the devil who had taken my daughter's life.

>> reporter: chris tapp was found guilty and set off to state prison for 40 years, which is when carol dodge's odyssey really began. her own investigation filled with danger, surprise, and some very troubling discoveries. .

>> when we come back, one discovery so troubling that angie 's mother reached out for help.

>> the anger just surged through me.

>> her search for the truth would hold some chilling surprises.

>> still brings the hair up on the back of my neck.

>> when "the confession" continues. well