The DNA of a killer. Who killed Angie Dodge?
Correspondent: Anne-Marie Green; Producers: Judy Rybak, Elena DiFiore, Lindsey Schwartz and Chris O’Connell
Nearly two decades after 18-year-old Angie Dodge was brutally murdered in her Idaho Falls, Idaho, apartment, police were still hunting for the killer who left his DNA at the crime scene, while a man who did not match the DNA was serving a 30-year sentence for participating in the crime.
In 2014, police took a new and very controversial approach to try to find a match to that DNA. They searched a public DNA database owned by Ancestry.com, hoping to find someone related to Angie’s killer. They got a close enough match to make them think they had found the killer’s family tree – and there they found what they believed to be their man: a young New Orleans filmmaker who happened to have produced a short film about a girl’s brutal death.
But was he?
“Nobody every thinks that they’re gonna get picked up by the police and taken into an interrogation room and questioned about a murder,” filmmaker Michael Usry Jr. told “48 Hours.” “When it happens to you, it’s definitely a game changer.”
Michael Usry Jr: The ability to kill is obviously somewhere in all of us. Because it happens every day across the country.
Michael Usry Jr: Two-and-a-half years ago — my wife and I, we were livin’ in New Orleans … having a good time. …living there in … The Big Easy.
Michael Usry Jr.: And I was working in the movie business. I’ve produced and had directed a few short films.
Michael Usry Jr: “Murderabilia” … got me the reputation of being a person who is really into murder. And things like that.
Michael Usry Jr: My name is Michael Usry. I’m a filmmaker and was a suspect in the Angie Dodge case.
1996 news report: Nineteen-year-old [sic] Angie Dodge was murdered last week, the latest violent crime in Idaho Falls.
Det. Patrick McKenna | Idaho Falls Police Dept.: At least one of the weapons used in it was a knife.
Chief Mark McBride | Idaho Falls Police Dept: As the officers arrived at the crime scene … and found Angie Dodge laying on the ground … And it was obvious that there was a very brutal murder that happened. A lot of blood.
Det. Patrick McKenna: It’s sad to see an 18-year-old girl, and see her life taken at the hands of somebody else in this fashion.
Carol Dodge: Angie was my only daughter and she’s my baby. …I’ll never stop missing her.
Chief Mark McBride: During the investigation we collected all the evidence; we came across a significant amount of DNA that we believe is from the killer.
Anne-Marie Green: Would you say that this crime scene provided really good evidence?
Greg Hampikian | DNA expert: Excellent evidence … You had a neat semen sample.
For nearly two decades police could not find a match to the killer’s DNA, so in 2014, they went way outside the box, and searched a public DNA database owned by Ancestry.com.
Carol Dodge: It led us to this Michael Usry Jr. Who just happened to be a filmmaker.
Det. Patrick McKenna: Films of homicide – um kind of a murder mystery filmmaker.
Det. Patrick McKenna: It was pretty creepy. …We had Louisiana State Police call him.
Det. Patrick McKenna: He had agreed to come down to the – state offices there in New Orleans.
Michael Usry Jr.: the majority of the time that I was in the interrogation room, I just didn’t know what they were talkin’ about. …They finally had to look at me and go … “no we think that you, Michael Usry … we think that you’re involved in this murder case.”
Det. Patrick McKenna: My whole purpose is to find who killed Angie Dodge.
HOW THE FILMMAKER BECAME A SUSPECT
Carol Dodge: Grief has no time limit … I just can’t, I can’t let go. …I can’t let go of her.
Carol Dodge lost her daughter, Angie, when she was just a teenager.
Carol Dodge: She was just discovering who she truly was … and wanting independence. … she says, “Just let me grow up. … Let me make my own mistakes.” You know, “you don’t need to watch me,” you know, “you don’t need to be my shadow.”
It was the summer of 1996 in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a mostly Mormon community, where neighbors knew each other by name, and doors were rarely locked, says Chief of Police Mark McBride.
Chief Mark McBride: It was a very, really a very quiet, peaceful town overall.
Just three weeks before her death, 18-year-old Angie got her own apartment.
Carol Dodge: I saw her the night that she was killed. …She said, “It’s so hard growin’ up.” …and she laid her head on my shoulder and we just kinda rocked back and forth. And … I’m so grateful for that moment … extremely grateful that [crying] my last words were that I love her.
The next morning, Angie didn’t show up for work at a local beauty supply store.
Chief Mark McBride: We got a phone call at our 911 center about 11:00 in the morning … and one of her friends at work came to check on her … and the door was unlocked. She went in and she found a body laying there on the floor … and a very bloody crime scene.
There was no sign of forced entry, but there were signs of a struggle.
Anne-Marie Green: You think she fought for her life?
Chief Mark McBride: Yes, I do.
Angie was stabbed and cut 14 times and left half naked. There were no signs of rape, but the killer ejaculated, leaving behind what DNA expert Greg Hampikian calls “a pristine profile.”
Greg Hampikian: It’s a single profile, complete identification. One man to the exclusion of everyone on the planet.
Police tested the DNA of dozens of local men but couldn’t get a match. So, for months, they interviewed everyone Angie knew, including Christopher Tapp. Although his DNA didn’t match and he denied any involvement, after more than 28 hours of interrogation over 23 days, Tapp confessed to participating in Angie’s murder.
Detective: You were there correct?
Chris Tapp: Correct.
Anne-Marie Green: Did you know Christopher Tapp?
Carol Dodge: No. Didn’t know — had no clue.
Tapp told police that the night of Angie’s death he and two friends stopped by her apartment. During an argument, Tapp claimed one of his friends started stabbing Angie while he held her down.
Detective: You’re holding her down, OK, while she’s being cut, you’re holding her down while she’s being…
Chris Tapp: Cut.
But when Tapp went before a judge, he pleaded not guilty.
Carol Dodge: I said, “You beast. You horrible beast” … How could he do this to my daughter?
The defense argued Tapp’s DNA didn’t match the killers, but on May 28, 1998, it took the jury only 13 hours to reach a verdict: guilty.
Nearly two years after Angie Dodge was murdered, Chris Tapp faced his punishment with Carol Dodge glaring at him:
Judge: You are guilty of the crimes of murder in the first degree and rape.
Tapp’s sentence: 30 years-to-life. But the murder of Angie Dodge was still an open case. Remember, Chris Tapp did not match the DNA and he wouldn’t tell police who did.
Carol Dodge: I just couldn’t understand why he would go to prison and take a life sentence and not give the other person up.
Tapp did give authorities several names, including someone named “Mike.”
Detective: How sure are you that his first name is Mike?
Chris Tapp: I’m dead positive.
But police could never make a DNA match. So the case went cold, but not for Carol Dodge.
Carol Dodge: I never stop looking for the actual person who matches the DNA. …It’s one individual. That’s the person I’m looking for.
By 2009, the killer’s DNA had been entered into the national criminal database—known as CODIS, but there was still no match. So, Carol Dodge called well-known DNA expert Greg Hampikian.
Greg Hampikian: I had this message. …”They don’t know who killed my — my daughter.”
By then, there had been many advances in DNA technology, and with Hampikian’s help, Carol Dodge pushed authorities to make use of a controversial new search process called, “familial DNA.” It looks for anyone who might be related to Angie’s killer.
Greg Hampikian: Which means going into that database in Idaho of the convicted offenders, and looking for a family member that might match this DNA partially.
Erin Murphy: Two places, D.C. and Maryland … passed a law that says no familial searches are allowed.
New York University law professor Erin Murphy wrote “Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA,” and says there’s real privacy concerns with familial DNA searches.
Erin Murphy: The states that I think are worried about this are worried about … maybe we can use your DNA to see if your brother’s breaking the law or if your dad’s breaking the law, or your son’s breaking the law.
Idaho doesn’t allow familial searches in their criminal database, so Greg Hampikian made an even more controversial suggestion: a familial search through public databases.
Carol Dodge: I’m the one that went to the Idaho Falls Police Department and the prosecution saying … “we need to do this.”
Imagine you are one of millions of Americans who have opened a DNA home test kit, spit into a test tube, and then send your DNA to a commercial database. That database now owns your DNA profile and you may not realize it, but police might be able to access it.
Chief Mark McBride: We’re interested in solvin’ a crime and we’re gonna use any technique we can … that we can legally use.
In the summer of 2014, detectives searched a public DNA database owned by Ancestry.com and they got a hit.
Greg Hampikian: I was told they got 34 out of 35 markers.
Anne-Marie Green: Is that good?
Greg Hampikian: Yeah. That’s — that’s a good investigative lead.
It was a close enough match to make Det. Patrick McKenna think they had found a relative of Angie’s killer. So police got a warrant for Ancestry.com to reveal his identity. It was a man named Michael Usry Sr.
Det. Patrick McKenna: We know it’s not that individual or we would have had 35 out of 35 on that, so that’s when we started doing research into the family.
That led investigators to suspect Usry’s son, Michael Usry Jr.
Detective McKenna wondered if this could be the Mike that Chris Tapp once named:
Det. Patrick McKenna: And then we started researchin’ him … and the films that he was making, and it was … a little eerie to think that that could possibly — possibly be a solid suspect in the case.
Anne-Marie Green: I have to ask you this question. Do you have a particular interest in murder?
Michael Usry Jr.: I — I don’t have a particular interest in murder. You know —