Dateline   |  August 24, 2012

The Confession, Part 5

Christopher Tapp tells his side of the story for the first time in an exclusive jailhouse interview with Keith Morrison.

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

>>> there comes a time in every tale to meet the man at the center of the story, and here he is, christopher tapp. no longer the aimless pot head you saw in the videotapes in 1997 . now a man of 36, who has done more than a decade of hard time . as people look at you, what do you most want them to know about you?

>> i've been so wronged all these years. how could individuals do something to another human being like they have done to me.

>> reporter: you're an innocent man?

>> yes, sir, i am.

>> reporter: of course everybody in prison is innocent, right?

>> if you look at the whole entire case, the dna , none of it points to me.

>> reporter: on that point, there is little dispute, of course. but how did chris tapp get here? that's a familiar story to many families, the sweet little boy shown in all these pictures of a typical childhood, carefully kept by his mom vera, started smoking marijuana at 13. at 16, turned to meth. chris dropped out of high school , stayed high every minute he could, he says, hanging out down by the river in idaho falls with all the kids his mom warned him about and that's how his name came up after the murder of angie dodge, when police were scouring the city for suspects who might match the dna left behind after the murder. so too he was asked to submit dna . did you think anything of that?

>> no. i had no rhyme, no reason to be scared.

>> reporter: but then, not a word, for months. until, you'll recall, january of 1997 , when tapp was brought in for questioning after his friend ben hobbs was arrested for a nevada sexual attack, which police said was similar to the murder of angie dodge.

>> i didn't know what i was being brought in for.

>> reporter: didn't connect it with the angie thing at all.

>> i thought i was going in for drugs.

>> reporter: as you've seen over the course of several weeks, chris tapp soon went from saying he knew nothing about angie 's murder, to being the only man charged in the case, just as his mother warned him. how was your mother during all of this?

>> frantic. i was honest with her, i said i had nothing to do with this, mom. i tried to explain to her. i didn't really confess, it took days to get to a story where i actually made a confession.

>> reporter: well, of course, one of the difficulties was your story kept changing.

>> very much it did.

>> reporter: you went from saying i don't know anything about this, to then saying, well, maybe ben had something to do with it. to then, well, maybe there is a third guy involved. to, wait a minute, i was there. and oh, yeah, and i cut her. where did that come from?

>> trying to give them what they wanted to hear, just to appease them.

>> reporter: wait a minute, why would you say you cut her in.

>> during that time, mr. fuhriman, he said hypothetically, even if you did cut her, it still ain't going to matter, we'll get you another deal, we'll help you, but you need to help us.

>> reporter: and indeed, here it is on tape, with then detective, now mayor jared fuhriman in charge of the interview.

>> hypothetically if chris tapp was holding on to angie , and she was being cut, and if some ear other stuff was going on or if chris tapp took part in the knife in any way shape or form of cutting her.

>> but i didn't.

>> would you listen?

>> i'm sorry.

>> hypothetically, if you took part in any of that, that's okay. because you're still here, you're still showing some good faith that you want to cooperate and the prosecutor will reconsider another possible -- exactly. you.

>> reporter: you believe that story?

>> hook, line and sinker.

>> reporter: tell me what is going on inside your stomach and your brain?

>> scared. trying to figure out what they want, just for them to leave me alone .

>> reporter: why?

>> i didn't kill nobody. i was never there the night the murder happened. they just kept focusing on, well, if he was there, if he did do it, if he held a knife, it is okay, we'll help you. like an idiot, i believed them.

>> reporter: then they charged you with murder?

>> yeah.

>> reporter: now, of course, chris tapp is fighting to clear his name, with the support not only of his own mother, and the innocence project , but of carol dodge, the victim's mother. carol dodge came around to your side. what was that like?

>> it is an amazing feeling. i appreciate her finally understand i understanding that i'm innocent.

>> reporter: and as we spoke, for the first time in years, chris tapp had reason to feel one spark of possibility. someone in a position to change his future was going to listen.

>>> coming up, a new chance at freedom. could that controversial confession get thrown out of court?

>> but this confession goes, the state has almost no evidence.

>> a high stakes hearing with carol dodge front and center.

>>> and coming up next friday on "dateline" -- secrets in a small town .

>> it was awful realizing your worst nightmare has come true.

>> a mother vanished, a family is anguished, and a case of murder becomes a southern gothic mystery.

>> who would ever imagine you would have a mother --

>> then a small town story led to a very big break . and to a suspect who surprised nearly everyone.

>> had you ever said i know that you did this?