Murder of Angie Dodge
The rape and murder of Angie Dodge was a cold case in Idaho Falls, Idaho, that remained open from the crime's occurrence on June 18, 1996, until May 2019. For 20 years, a falsely accused Chris Tapp served time in prison for Dodge's rape and murder while authorities searched for suspects that matched DNA left at the crime scene. In 2017, Tapp's rape conviction was repealed and he was released from prison. Over the course of Tapp's sentence, authorities continued searching for remaining suspects and in 2014 accused Michael Usry Jr. of rape and murder. Authorities discovered Usry through familial searching, a process by which partial DNA matches to relatives are used to identify an individual. After conducting a DNA test, authorities discovered that Usry did not match the DNA found at the crime scene and authorities recanted their allegation. In 2019, authorities again used familial searching to find and convict Brian Leigh Dripps Sr., who was found to have a full genetic match and confessed to the crime after interrogation.
This cold case received notability as one of the example cases for familial searching, where genetic testing for relatives lead to the discovery of a suspect. With both false accusations and the ultimate conviction obtained through familial searching, the case is an example for how non-criminal genetic repositories are used in criminal investigations and the debates on the appropriateness of their use.
Conviction of Chris Tapp
During the first stages of the investigation, Idaho Falls officials suspected 20-year-old Chris Tapp to be one of multiple participants in the rape and murder of Dodge. After an over 20-hour interrogation, Tapp confessed to the crime, though no physical evidence tied him to the scene. Tapp was convicted for aiding and abetting Dodge's rape and murder, and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison.
In 2001, Tapp recanted his confession and claimed he was coerced by police and fed information about the crime. In 2007, after serving ten years in prison, Tapp's case was revisited by the Idaho Innocence Project. A professor and undergraduate at Boise State University who work with the project reviewed Tapp's interrogation tapes and arrived at the conclusion that Tapp had been heavily coerced into his confession. Tapp's case was appealed in 2017 and the rape charge was rescinded, lessening his sentence from 30 years to 20 years. Tapp had by then served his full 20-year sentence and was released.
Chris Tapp was exonerated for the murder charge in July, 2019, after Brian Leigh Dripps Sr. was made suspect for Dodge's murder.
Accusation of Michael Usry Jr.
Michael Usry Jr. is a filmmaker from New Orleans, Louisiana, once suspected in the murder of Angie Dodge.
Authorities began to suspect Usry through familial searching. Michael's father, Michael Usry Sr.'s contributed a DNA sample to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation was later acquired by Ancestry.com, along with the Y-Chromosome database, a collection of genetic data for tracing paternal ancestry. Idaho Falls authorities ordered the search of the Ancestry.com's Y-Chromosome database and found a match of 34/35 searched alleles with Michael Usry Sr., a result that strongly indicates a close relative of his to be a close match. Michael Jr. was further suspected because of records trips to Idaho that have him going through Idaho Falls, as well as the dark nature of his films such as Murderabilia.
After Idaho Falls officials interrogated Usry and obtained a saliva sample, they uncovered that he did not have a genetic match to the sample found at the scene of Dodge's murder. Allegations against Usry were dropped and the trail went cold once again.
The accusation of Michael Usry Jr. was met by dissent from the public. Critics claimed that the use of the Ancestry.com database was unethical and a breach of privacy. Opposition argues that since Michael Usry Sr. donated his DNA sample for recreational/religious purposes, that data should not be used as grounds to accuse members of his family for crime. Ancestry.com met public disapproval in allowing law enforcement access to this database. Michael Usry Jr. stated that the investigation was a severe breach of his and his father's privacy.
Conviction of Brian Leigh Dripps Sr.
The investigation once again gained momentum in late 2018, when Idaho Falls authorities made another attempt to use familial DNA searching to find Dodge's killer. CeCe Moore, at Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia, agreed to assist authorities in searching GEDMatch, a public repository for autosomal DNA, for near-matches. Results identified seven individuals as possible suspects from which investigators collected DNA samples, the first six of which returned negative for a match against the DNA left at the crime 23 years earlier.
The last of the seven suspected individuals was Brian Leigh Dripps Sr., a man who lived not far from Idaho Falls, in Caldwell, Idaho. Investigators obtained a DNA sample from a cigarette butt thrown from his car window and found a complete genetic match.
Brian Leigh Dripps Sr. had been living in Idaho Falls, across the street from the Dodge household, during the period surrounding Dodge's death. After interrogation, Dripps confessed to the rape and murder of Angie Dodge.
Familial searching controversy
Familial searching is the process of finding an individual for which one cannot find a genetic match through finding approximate matches to their relatives and using genealogical data to identify the individual in question. Investigators of this case were scrutinized for their use of non-criminal databases to find potential suspects, with the primary concern being a breach of privacy for the individuals involved. In the case of Michael Usry Jr., they located him and his father through the use of one of Ancestry.com's databases (Y-DNA STR data from the former Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation) created as a recreational genealogy project. Michael Usry Sr. donated his genetic data to the Sorenson project for recreational/religious purposes, without the knowledge that it might one day be used for investigative purposes and potentially to allege him or his relatives of a crime. Michael Usry Jr. stated that this conduct by the authorities was a severe breach of both his and his father's privacy.
The use of this technique is not just limited to this case. The same method of familial DNA searching that was used to identify Dripps and Usry was used in the discovery of the Golden State Killer. Consensus among surveyed individuals indicates that the public overall approves of the use of personal genetic data in the investigation of violent offenders. However, there remain concerns over genetic data collected by companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com for recreational purposes being used to implicate a relative in a crime, without the contributor of that genetic sample consenting to its use in the investigation. The appropriateness of such usage of genetic data remains in active debate. While some states such as California, Idaho, Texas and Florida allow the use of familial searching, some areas of the United States like Maryland and the District of Columbia prohibit its use in criminal investigations.
While the Annie Dodge case is not the first case to use familial searching, officials involved in the investigation claim its success will propel its use in future criminal investigations. The long term impact of this case on familial searching opinions and usage remains to be seen.
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- Shane, Bishop (May 16, 2019). "Police arrest Idaho man in 23-year-old cold-case murder of Angie Dodge". NBC News. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
- Mustian, Jim (March 12, 2015). "New Orleans filmmaker cleared in cold-case murder; false positive highlights limitations of familial DNA searching". The New Orleans Advocate. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
- Armstrong, Mia (July 16, 2019). "In an Apparent First, Genetic Genealogy Aids a Wrongful Conviction Case". The Marshall Project. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
- Shapiro, Emily (July 17, 2019). "'A new beginning': Man convicted of murder in the '90s exonerated thanks to genetic genealogy". ABC News. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
- Sewell, Cynthia (May 16, 2019). "DNA family tree leads to new suspect in Angie Dodge murder case -- and a confession". The Idaho Statesman. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
- Brown, Ruth (May 16, 2019). "Who is Brian Dripps? Caldwell man arrested for long-unsolved murder of Angie Dodge". The Idaho Statesman. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
- "Privacy concerns after public genealogy database used to ID "Golden State Killer" suspect". CBS News. April 27, 2018. Retrieved October 21. Check date values in: