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He struggled to regain his life. Now an ex-congressional candidate is accused of taking it

Before that ill-fated party in a Las Vegas Strip hotel suite, Christopher Tapp was trying to live the life he had missed out on.

An altercation with a former congressional candidate and pro wrestler kept him from living that life, prosecutors allege.

Tapp, 47, had spent two decades in an Idaho prison for a 1996 murder that he didn’t commit. Released in 2017, exonerated in 2019, and then made wealthy after a $11.7 million settlement in 2022 with the city of Idaho Falls, Tapp had experienced a lot.

Matt Stamm, 43, a friend of Tapp’s in Idaho Falls, said it was not easy for Tapp to fit into modern life.

“It was extremely hard for him to adjust to life on the outside,” Stamm said in a recent phone interview.

Attorney John Thomas, who defended Tapp in court for a decade, said that Tapp wanted to use his money from the lawsuit to get into the world of street racing. He wanted to drive fast after having never owned a car before he was locked up behind bars. He eventually wanted to own his own race car.

His friends said his connections in street racing is what led him to visit Las Vegas, where he attended a party in a Resorts World suite on Oct. 29.

Early on the morning of Oct. 30, an altercation with former congressional candidate Daniel Rodimer, 45, would leave Tapp in dire shape, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Tapp was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where he would die on Nov. 5.

His death was initially thought to be an accident, according to Tapp’s friends. It wasn’t until January that Metro announced the case was being considered a homicide, and that Tapp had died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Two months later, Rodimer was charged with murder. He turned himself in at the Clark County Detention Center on March 6, only to be released hours later on a $200,000 bail, court records show.

Rodimer’s apparent rage at Tapp was stoked after Tapp was alleged to have offered Rodimer’s stepdaughter cocaine during the party in the Resorts World suite, according to a Metro police document, dated March 1, in which a detective outlines the allegations against Rodimer and requests that an arrest warrant be issued.

Witnesses said that Rodimer was heard telling Tapp, “If you ever talk to my daughter again, I’ll f—-ing kill you,” according to the documents.

Two loud banging noises were heard, and a person whose name is redacted in the report “relayed that Dan punched Christopher,” the Metro police documents state.

“It hurts,” Stamm said in a phone interview. “He was such a sweet dude. Big dude. Big teddy bear. Didn’t like confrontation. Treated everybody with respect.”

‘He loved to drive’

Those who knew Tapp described him as a good guy who had recently endured tragedy after his own legal saga was over. In August 2023, Tapp’s ex, 41-year-old Stacy Tapp, who he had married in 2019, died in a car crash in Idaho. (According to an online obituary, she was soon to be Chris’ ex-wife when she died.)

Stacy Tapp was driving a new Corvette when she got into the single-vehicle crash, said Greg Hampikian, Tapp’s friend and director of the Idaho Innocence Project. The car was one of several that Tapp bought after receiving money from the lawsuit for his wrongful conviction.

“He was exploring things he wanted to do in life,” Hampikian said. “He finally had the time and money to live out some of these interests. And he was always good with cars, and he loved to drive.”

Hampikian met Tapp while he was still in prison, when the Idaho Innocence Project took on the case in 2007. Tapp had been in prison since his early 20s, when he was accused of the rape and murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge, who was killed in her Idaho Falls apartment in 1996.

Police initially eyed a different suspect before settling on Tapp, Hampikian said. At the time of his initial trial, attorneys argued that a confession Tapp made to police had been coerced, but he was still convicted two years after the murder.

Once the Idaho Innocence Project got involved, the group started pushing police to test DNA evidence left at the scene. Hampikian said that by using genealogical DNA testing — a new technique at the time Tapp was exonerated — investigators were able to use public databases to find the relative of a man who left his DNA at the scene.

“This was the first time this was done,” Hampikian said.

Tapp was released in 2017 after reaching a deal with prosecutors in which his murder sentence was reduced to time served, and the rape conviction was vacated.

In 2019, police arrested Brian Leigh Dripps Sr., who confessed to being Dodge’s actual murderer. He was sentenced in 2021 to 20 years in prison, the Associated Press reported.

A new life

Hampikian said Tapp began hanging out with new friends after he received his settlement.

“I was worried about him,” Hampikian said. “I thought all of this change was happening very fast. And I was worried that people were taking advantage of him.”

Stamm, who said he met Tapp shortly after he was released, described Tapp as “one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.”

While Tapp was grateful to have his freedom back, Stamm said he remembered Tapp expressing his anxiety over the things in life he had to catch up on.

“He had never even seen a smartphone in his life, let alone a cellphone,” Stamm said.

Both Hampikian and Thomas said that after Tapp’s death, his friends were concerned that his injuries weren’t the result of an accident. Hampikian said he communicated with Metro homicide detectives, and encouraged others who were interested in the investigation to do the same.

Thomas said he found it odd that Tapp would have participated in hard drug use at a party. He “wasn’t a saint,” Thomas said, but he didn’t want to go back to prison after so many people worked hard to get him out.

Hampikian said it was sad that Tapp’s life ended after he enjoyed so little freedom following 20 years behind bars. But he had accepted that Tapp was doing “what he wanted to do.”

“That was Chris — Chris wanted to race cars, and hang out with the folks who were racing cars,” Hampikian said. “He got swept up into it.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com.

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