Idaho View: Only Gov. Little can right this wrong
IDAHO VIEW

Idaho View: Only Gov. Little can right this wrong

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Idaho governor vetoes bill to compensate wrongly convicted

In this Feb. 11 file photo, from left, Christopher Tapp, Republican Rep. Doug Ricks and Charles Fain appeared before the Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee in Boise, Idaho, to testify in favor of legislation that would compensate the wrongly convicted. Tapp and Fain combined spent nearly 40 years in Idaho prisons for crimes they didn't commit after being convicted of murder.

Twice, Idaho has not only fessed up to sending a man to prison for a murder he didn’t commit but then found the true culprit.

Can you find a more graphic miscarriage of justice — exposed by the miracle of DNA analysis?

And yet, in each case, the men who were wronged remain left to their own devices. As far as the state of Idaho is concerned, they are entitled to not much more than a handshake and maybe a set of new clothes.

The most recent developments involve Charles Fain.

Now 71, Fain spent 18 years on Idaho’s death row for the 1982 murder of a 9-year-old Nampa girl. Relying on flawed expert analysis of hair samples and the testimony of two jailhouse snitches, a jury convicted the Vietnam War veteran.

By 2001, his legal team produced DNA evidence proving the hair samples did not belong to Fain.

Then through the use of genetic genealogy, Canyon County officials last week traced the evidence to 62-year-old David Allen Dalrymple, who has been serving a 20-year to life sentence nearby at the Idaho State Correctional Institution at Kuna for the past 16 years. Dalrymple was convicted of kidnapping, lewd conduct and sexual abuse involving a minor between the ages of 9 and 11 years old.

The same thing happened in an Idaho Falls courtroom last year.

Coerced into a confession that persuaded a jury to convict him of the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge, Christopher Tapp spent more then 20 years in prison proclaiming his innocence. In 2017, he won his freedom through a deal that left the murder conviction on his record. The same genetic genealogy that located Dalrymple first led Idaho Falls police to the culprit in the Dodge murder — Brian Dripps of Caldwell, who at the time of Dodge’s murder had lived across the street from the victim.

With that, Tapp was fully exonerated.

But Idaho is among 15 states that does not compensate the wrongfully convicted — unless, of course, one of them can prove deliberate misconduct on the part of police and/or prosecutors resulted in their confinement. A simple good-faith error is not sufficient.

Why?

Ask Gov. Brad Little.

Less than a year ago, state Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, assembled a broad-based coalition of prosecutors, court officials, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office, representatives of inmate exoneration groups and budget office staffers behind a package. Based on models approved in Kansas and Nevada, they produced compensation for the wrongly convicted:

l Cash — $75,000 for each year spent on death row, $60,000 for each year spent in prison and $25,000 for each year spent on parole. The budget outlays would be relative small — no more than four individuals were known to qualify and the measure called for payments to be spread out in $85,000 yearly increments unless a judge decided otherwise.

l Benefits — Tuition waivers toward an undergraduate degree at Idaho’s state institutions of higher learning, health insurance, help toward finding work, mental health counseling and housing assistance.

Aside from one lawmaker who voted against a final version after the bill was amended to prevent those not fully exonerated on new evidence from claiming benefits, the measure sailed through both the House and Senate.

But Little vetoed the bill — long after lawmakers left Boise and could no longer override him.

The governor didn’t like the process. Rather than go to court, he thought the parole board or the Board of Examiners should adjudicate.

He questioned what he called “unfunded mandates” to provide free college education and health care. Better to pay for that out of the exoneree’s cash payment, Little said.

He asked how the Legislature established the compensation targets: “We should be sure that the amount Idaho makes available to compensate the wrongfully convicted is comparable to the amounts other states give.”

Why Idaho could not work within the court system when other states can is a bit of a mystery. Parole boards are notoriously deaf to claims of innocence. The board of examiners, of course, leaves the governor, secretary of state and attorney general in charge of the case.

As for the amounts and benefits proposed, those numbers were set in January; why did Little wait 60 days to complain?

Little’s case for vetoing the bill already was weak after Dripps’ arrest. In light of Dalrymple’s identification, it’s been fully repudiated.

When the Legislature reconvenes next year, Ricks will have a replacement bill supported by virtually everyone. Only Little will be standing between Tapp and Fain and the justice owed to them. — M.T.

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Idaho’s structure of electing governors and LG’s completely separately — different from many states which bind them together — allows for the office holders to come from different points of view.

For future historians and artists who'll chronicle today's health and economic crisis, one humble item will stand out as the chief cultural emblem of the times: wearing a mask. Or not.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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