A Real-Life Hero
Like the iconic Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” defense attorney John Thomas ’93 dedicated nearly a decade of his life to righting a grave injustice. His unwavering determination led to the release of an innocent man, Christopher Tapp, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and rape [^1^].
Inheriting a Case
John Thomas came across Christopher Tapp’s case when he became a public defender in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Despite handling hundreds of cases each year, Thomas delved deep into Tapp’s appeal. His relentless efforts paid off in March 2017 when Tapp was finally exonerated and set free [^1^].
Tapp spoke highly of Thomas, saying, “John truly believed in my innocence, and he believed in me. He stood his ground against judges and prosecuting attorneys when it seemed like there was no way we were ever going to win” [^1^].
A Unique Advocate
Working side by side with Carol Dodge, the mother of the victim, Angie Dodge, John Thomas demonstrated remarkable integrity and compassion. Dodge praised Thomas, saying, “John is a one-of-a-kind individual with unbelievable integrity, the kind of person you just don’t see in a profession like his. He cares about his clients and fought against the system. He is truly a good man” [^1^].
First a Frog
John Thomas, hailing from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was inspired by his father’s passion for the law. Although his father could not pursue it himself, Thomas carried on the family legacy by dedicating himself to the practice of law [^1^].
After attending TCU as a political science major and English minor, Thomas spent some time coaching high school diving in Utah and working at a law firm in Salt Lake City. In 1999, he graduated from the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School [^1^].
Righting a Wrong
Although initially unfamiliar with the details of Christopher Tapp’s case, John Thomas began to question the police department’s conduct during the investigation. Angie Dodge’s murder remained unsolved, and Thomas saw an opportunity to challenge the flawed investigation [^1^].
Tapp had initially confessed to the crime after hours of intense police interrogation. However, later developments indicated possible coercion and the withholding of crucial evidence. Armed with emerging touch DNA technology, Thomas embarked on a mission to uncover the truth [^1^].
John Thomas’s unwavering dedication shone through, even in the face of numerous setbacks. Bonneville County public defender Jordan Crane commented on Thomas’s perseverance, stating, “What’s really amazing about this whole case is how John never gave up, even in spite of the setbacks. It didn’t sit well with him that an innocent man was in prison. I cannot even imagine the amount of personal time he spent working to free Chris Tapp” [^1^].
Thomas’s dogged determination eventually led him to Mike Heavey, founder of Judges for Justice, who believed that Tapp had strong grounds for a new appeal. With Heavey’s assistance and Dodge’s continued advocacy, the case gained national media attention, eventually resulting in Tapp’s exoneration [^1^].
One Last Fight
In a highly anticipated appeal hearing in 2017, John Thomas and Christopher Tapp faced a crucial moment. With the national media closely watching, a last-minute agreement was reached between the prosecution and the defense. The rape charge was withdrawn, and Tapp’s murder conviction was amended to a 20-year fixed term, which he had already served [^1^].
The emotional scene outside the courthouse, with hundreds of supporters cheering, marked the culmination of years of tireless effort. Thomas described it as the greatest day of his career. Today, he continues to fight for justice as the chief deputy public defender in Bonneville County, handling high-profile cases, including those involving the death penalty [^1^].
Tapp, now a married man working for a local company in Idaho Falls, has found solace and the chance to rebuild his life thanks to John Thomas’s unwavering advocacy [^1^].
John Thomas’s remarkable dedication and unwavering fight for justice serve as an inspiration to us all. His story reminds us of the extraordinary impact one person can have in correcting a grave injustice.
For more information about John Thomas and his incredible work, visit Garrity Traina.
[^1^]: Original Article – Author Name. (Year, Month Day). Article Title. Source: Link