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'I can't forgive you, ever:' Culprit in cold-case murder of Angie Dodge sentenced

Because of 55-year-old Brian Dripps' failing health, his lawyers say, he is almost certain to die before ever setting foot outside prison again.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — It's over now, technically.

Brian Dripps, the man who raped and murdered an 18-year-old woman in her Idaho Falls apartment, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison, with 20 years before he will become eligible for parole. Because of the 55-year-old Caldwell man's failing health, his lawyers say, he is almost certain to die before ever setting foot outside of prison again.

The family of Angie Dodge has been waiting nearly a quarter-century for this day.

But it's never really over. 

Todd Dodge, the older brother of the victim, said in court Tuesday that the murder had thrown his life and that of his family into "chaos."

"I have ached in anticipation for too many years for justice to come," he said. "Because of Mr. Dripps' premeditated actions, he sentenced me to a lifetime of hell. And so far, I have served 9,126 days."

Dripps told police that he was drunk and high on cocaine when he broke into Angie Dodge's home on June 13, 1996 while she was asleep. He claimed later that he had only intended to rape her, but ended up cutting her throat so savagely with a knife that she was nearly decapitated.

Dripps lived just across the street from the victim at the time, but investigators zeroed in on another man, 20-year-old Christopher Tapp. Although DNA from semen found at the crime scene excluded Tapp, and he said that he had been coerced by Idaho Falls police into giving a false confession, he was convicted of the murder at trial and sentenced to prison.

Credit: Otto Kitsinger/AP Images for The Innocence Project
Christopher Tapp hugging Carol Dodge, mother of Angie Dodge – Post Conviction Relief Proceedings on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Tapp spent more than two decades behind bars before the Idaho Innocence Project and Angie Dodge's own mother took up his case, urging the courts to take another look. He was ultimately released from incarceration in 2017 after a judge agreed that there were problems with how investigators had obtained his confession.

Although freed, Tapp was not officially declared innocent of the murder until 2019, after advancements in DNA genealogy mapping allowed investigators to close in on the real murderer. DNA from a cigarette butt Dripps tossed to the ground while being surveilled by detectives was a match to the evidence found at the crime scene, and Dripps was arrested.

Todd Dodge told the judge he considers Tapp and other people touched by the murder as victims of Dripps as well. 

"Chris should be given the opportunity to voice his nightmare to this court," he said. "[Brian Dripps] dropped an atomic bomb in the center of our family and our community. He destroyed the central core of our lives, and many others, when he slaughtered Angie."

Carole Dodge, Angie's mother, wept as she confronted her daughter's killer. 

"My last words to her was 'I love you.' I held her in my arms. Never again, was I ever able to hold her again because of your actions - your evil actions, your selfish actions," she told him. "And I can't forgive you, ever. You have shattered our family."

Dripps attorney, Elisa Massoth, asked the judge for leniency noting that after that violent night in 1996, Dripps went on to commit almost no other crimes for the rest of his adult life.

She said that her client had been drinking heavily and using drugs in the aftermath of his wife leaving him when the murder of Angie Dodge happened, and that he was "so incredibly remorseful."

"Brian did commit one of the most serious offenses possible in 1996. But he didn't repeat it, he didn't hurt anybody else," Massoth said. "He was a devoted son, a solid father figure, a solid friend."

Deputy Attorney General Jessica Kuehn wasn't impressed. Brian Dripps had the opportunity to enjoy vacations with his children, time with his friends and family, she said. Angie Dodge's life ended at 18.

Credit: KTVB file
Angie Dodge

The case is not just about June 13, 1996, Kuehn told the judge. It's about every day that followed after.

"He lived every day of those 23 years with the opportunity to show that he is 'so incredibly remorseful'. And yet, what did he do? He lived every day of those 23 years like he had never taken a life," she said. "He lived every day of those 23 years like another man was not sitting in prison for his crime."

Just before the sentence was handed down, Dripps stood up at the defense table to apologize in a quiet voice.

"I'd just like to say I'm sorry. I didn't intend for this to happen," he said. "I wish I could do over that night."

Judge Joel Tingey said he was sticking to the 20-years-to-life sentence hammered out in a plea agreement earlier this year. Dripps will receive credit for two years time served, and will be required to register as a sex offender.

The judge told the defendant that although he had lived a "relatively crime-free" life after the murder, that did not absolve him. 

Perhaps the sentencing will bring some closure. But even if it does, the judge said, an innocent man still spent a significant part of his life behind bars. A family is still moving through the world without their daughter, their sister. 

"It's impossible to quantify how much damage has been caused," Tingey said. "It's chaos, it's chaos for a lifetime."

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