In some genetic genealogy circles, they call it the Usry Case. It should not be called that though. It is the ongoing investigation into the murder of Angie Dodge. Angie was 18. A few short weeks after she moved into her first apartment, she was found dead.
What followed can tell us much about what is wrong and what is right about police searches for the perpetrators of violent crimes.
Here are some of the people and groups involved.
On 13 June 1996, Angie Dodge was murdered. She died from knife wounds involving both stabs and slashes. There was no indication of sexual assault. However, seman was found at the crime scene. One scenario for this is that the murderer killed her and then masturbated.
In the year following the murder, Christopher Tapp was arrested by the local police and coerced into a confession. His DNA did not match the crime scene. All that linked him to the crime was a friendship with another man who was arrested for another violent attack on a woman.
After unethical interrogation, he confessed to being one of three men on scene and to helping hold Angie down. He was sentenced and spent over 20 years in prison. He was eventually released after he agreed to accept a re-sentencing that still convicted him for murder. That protected the state of Idaho from liability for his 20 plus years spent as a prisoner for a crime he was unlikely to have been involved with.
Carol Dodge is Angie Dodge’s mother. She has been strongly involved in the ongoing search for Angie’s killer. She was also key in helping Christopher Tapp regain his freedom.
Greg Hampikian was the DNA expert who suggested doing additional testing on the DNA from the crime scene and using it to match against genealogical databases. He is or has been involved with the Idaho Innocence Project, Georgia Innocence Project, the Irish Innocence Project, and the Innocence Project France. He works at Boise State University.
Michael Usry is a film maker. In 2014 his family’s Y-DNA profile was linked to the DNA profile from the crime scene. He was brought in for questioning, and his DNA was collected with a court ordered warrant.
Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF)
Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation was a genealogical database of pedigrees and DNA results. James LeVoy Sorenson founded the original database and funded much of the testing. Results profiles for mtDNA and Y-DNA were publicly searchable with a free account. It was this database that was used to link the DNA from the crime scene to the Usry family.
At the time, ownership of the database had passed from the foundation to Ancestry.com a commercial genealogy and DNA testing company.
Idaho Falls Police Department
The police department in Idaho Falls was responsible for the way both Christopher Tapp and Michael Usry were treated.
In 1996, Angie Dodge was found murdered. DNA was found in seman at the crime scene. Several suspects were brought in for questioning. These included Christopher Tapp. All of the suspects were DNA tested. There DNA did not match. However Christopher Tapp was convicted for his involvement in a rape and for murder.
For many years the case was left open but without leads.
In 2014, investigators decided to extend testing of the DNA from the crime scene. They used the SMGF database to search for matching Y-DNA profiles. They matched against a sample that was submitted by Michael Usry’s father. Because the profile at SMGF was listed as protected, investigators got a court order to obtain the surname. The investigators got a warrant to collect DNA from Michael Usry. They got the warrant based on several factors.
- The Y-DNA STR markers tested from the crime scene were a close match to those in the SMGF database.
- Michael Usry was a film maker who showed interest in murder.
- Michael Usry did some filming in the Idaho Falls area.
When Michael Usry’s results came back, he was not a match to the DNA from the crime scene. This cleared Michael from the suspect list.
In March 2015, the story of Michael’s involvement and the SMGF database was disclosed in The New Orleans Advocate. Nothing was made public until then. According to Ancestry, they chose to shut down the SMGF database in reaction to this case.
After that, both Carol Dodge and Michael Usry became involved with helping Christopher Tapp. They eventually helped him get released from prison.
Today, the murder investigation for Angie Dodge is still open. Carol Dodge, Michael Usry, and Christopher Tapp would all like to see the killer identified and brought to justice.
The lessons to be learned here come from the treatment of Christopher Tapp by local police. We should all take to heart that it is not a good idea to talk to the police without your lawyer present. In an interrogation, they can and will lie to you. His treatment was not acceptable. That has nothing to do with DNA, but we as citizens are responsible for speaking out against injustice.
On the other hand, the use of a publicly accessible DNA database to do genealogical matching was exactly as it should be. The match provided a clue. The clue was followed up with proper investigation using standard forensic methods. Formal forensic DNA and non-public information was obtained through the courts with warrants.
In efforts to solve crimes, many people are suspects before being cleared. There is the presumption of innocence, but also there is a process for evaluating suspects.
Somewhere out there, the person who killed Angie Dodge is still free. There is a sketch of what the killer may look like based on his DNA.
Sources & Resources
- Who Murdered Idaho Teen Angie Dodge? – Forty Eight Hours
- Angie Dodge – In Loving Memory
- DNA provides sketch of Idaho Falls cold-case killer – KTVB
- Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation – Wikipedia
- Greg Hampikian – Wikipedia
- New Orleans filmmaker cleared in cold-case murder; false positive highlights limitations of familial DNA searching