Written by Cinthya Rubio and Victoria Owens

It took thirteen years for Angie Dodge’s mother to realize the man who she believed killed her daughter was innocent.

The Ronald Longmire Centennial Courtroom began to fill with people who waited for the judge to agree to the terms of the deal that would allow for Chris Tapp to be released from prison after 20 years.

On June 13, 1996, Angie Dodge was raped and stabbed to death in her apartment in Idaho Falls, according to The Post Register. On Jan. 7, 1997, Christopher Tapp, 22, voluntarily submitted to police questioning about this crime at the Law Enforcement Building in Idaho Falls.

During the first interviews, Tapp denied knowing anything about the crime, according to State vs. Tapp court of appeal. However, Tapp’s story began to change as more interviews took place. On Feb. 3, 1997, Tapp was convicted of first-degree murder and rape.

Twenty years later silence filled the room as the anticipation grew for Tapp to arrive.

As Tapp entered the courtroom, the energy changed to excitement and his close friends, the River Rats, stood up for him and raised their fists in support for their friend.

“The people that were here for you back then are here for you now,” Carol Dodge said during a victim statement. “I am extremely happy for you. You have your life back.”

Carol Dodge, mother of Angie Dodge, said the day brought a lot of memories back to her, and she told Tapp she could not imagine what he had to go through for the last 20 years.

“I was really angry at you,” Carol Dodge said during her victim statement in the hearing. “I remember visiting you in Pocatello in the jail and asking you what my baby’s last words were. Little did I know that you just didn’t know. Little did we know what we know and with great sadness, 20 years of your life have been taken from you. I can’t even possibly imagine, or begin to comprehend, living for 20 years being confined in a 4-by-8 cell, with nothing but a cot and a pot with no window to throw it out. And to make it worse, it’s surrounded by concrete walls, steel doors and wired fences.”

Brent Dodge, brother of Angie Dodge, said he hopes that this agreement will bring forth healing.

“Last time we stood face to face, it was a different conversation, and I was wrong,” Brent Dodge said. “Although the agreement is not perfect, it does provide a catalyst for the healing to take place and continue to take place. This is not only healing for our families, but for the community(…) That’s what my sister would want; she would want healing.”

Carol Dodge worked with the Idaho Innocence Project and Tapp’s public defender to overturn his conviction.

The Innocence Project represents clients who are seeking post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence, according to innocenceproject.org.

There have been 349 people in the United States who have been exonerated by DNA testing since 1989, including 20 who served time on death row.

The release did not exonerate Tapp.The murder charge is still on his record, but by accepting the plea agreement, he was able to shorten his 30 years to life sentence and use the 20 years he served as credit. The agreement allowed Tapp to walk out of the courthouse free, and without the deal he would not have been able to seek parole until 2027.

“I worked hard, Chris, to bring this day forward, and, for 13 years, (people) programmed my mind that you were my daughter’s killer,” Carol Dodge said. “You’re not actually going free, Chris, but you’re a long way from where you were yesterday.”

Three DNA tests have been conducted in the case. The test done in 1996 on the DNA left at the murder scene, the hairs left at the murder scene tested in 1999 and the test conducted in January 2013 did not match Tapp in any of the tests, according to judgesforjustice.org.

Tapp was released as Judge Alan Stephens agreed to the plea agreement.

“I recognize the impact the ruling I make today will have not only on the victims, but also on yourself and the public in the state of Idaho,” Stephens said to Tapp. “Both the attorneys for the state and your attorney have worked diligently to reach a resolution that, in my mind, fills the needs for justice and fairness.”

Cheers filled the courtroom as Tapp was released and family began to embrace him.

“I’m just grateful for everything,” Tapp said. “It feels different to not have handcuffs on. I want to prove to everybody that I can be something and do something right. I’m thankful for all the time and energy Carol has given me to help me get to this point. She’s continued to believe in my innocence and I’m grateful.”

Tapp said he is excited to move on with his life and start over.

“I want to see life,” Tapp said. “I want to see what life has to offer and prove again that I was worth something.”