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Bastiaan Slabbers/iStock(PHILADELPHIA) -- The Philadelphia police commissioner has suspended 17 officers for 30 days and is moving to fire 14 of them over disturbing social media posts.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross made the announcement during a news conference Thursday, attended by Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney and the entire police department's command staff.

The disciplinary action stems from research uncovered by the watchdog group the Plain View Project, which examined more than 3,100 troubling Facebook posts made by 328 active Philadelphia police officers.

Ross said an investigation by an outside law firm contracted by the city found that the officers being suspended allegedly made racist and hateful posts.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.


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Rick Friedman/Rick Friedman Photography/Corbis via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A federal judge has denied bail to accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

Judge Richard Berman made the decision over the objections of defense attorneys who had argued that the wealthy financier was a “disciplined” defendant willing to pay a bond of $100 million or more.

Federal prosecutors objected, saying the court “cannot rely on the self-discipline of a man with an appetite for children.”

Epstein, appearing before the judge in a navy smock and brown T-shirt, appeared to have no visible reaction to the decision ordering him remanded to pre-trial detention. He was led off by marshals without speaking to his attorneys.

Berman said the government established “by clear and convincing evidence" that Epstein is a danger to others, and noted the “compelling” testimony of Courtney Wild and Annie Farmer, two alleged victims who earlier this week spoke in court against bail.

Wild, who said she was 14 when she was brought to Epstein’s Palm Beach, Florida, estate, called him “scary.” Farmer said she was 16 when she was trafficked in New

The judge also noted what was found in a locked safe inside Epstein’s Upper East Side Manhattan mansion: $70,000 in cash, an assortment of diamonds, and an expired Austrian passport with Epstein’s photo but not his name.

Berman said prosecutors established risk of flight “by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Epstein, 66, has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of minor girls. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

The defense had invoked Bernie Madoff, Enron’s Jeff Skilling and other high profile defendants who were granted bail, though none of them were accused of sex crimes involving minors which, by law, presumes the defendant will be remanded to pre-trial custody, the judge said.

Cases involving these kind of accusations “are unusual in the criminal law insofar as they carry with them a presumption that ‘No condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required, and the safety of the community,’” Berman said during bail arguments.

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Wolterk/iStock(ODESSA, Texas) -- A 15-year-old boy in Odessa, Texas, was arrested and charged after he was caught on supermarket surveillance footage spitting into an Arizona tea bottle then putting it back on the shelf.

Odessa police were dispatched Monday to Albertsons, a supermarket in Odessa, after a store employee witnessed the act, according to police Corporal Steve LeSueur.

An officer reviewed the store footage, where the boy was seen taking a drink of the Arizona tea bottle before putting it back.

The boy admitted to both store employees and police that he had spit in the drink and put it back.

"It was gross," the boy told police when explaining his rationale.

Gross or not, the offense is a second degree felony in the state of Texas. LeSueur said this is "something we take very seriously."

The 15-year-old was sent to be held at the Ector County Youth Center. He has been charged with tampering with a consumer product.

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vmargineanu/iStock(STONE COUNTY, Ark.) -- An Arkansas sheriff’s deputy was one of two people killed in a shooting Thursday morning, authorities said.

"We are sad to report that the coroner has been called to the scene for the deputy involved in the shooting. We are asking for prayers for all involved and for the deputies family," the Stone County Office of Emergency Management said in a tweet.

UPDATE: we are sad to report that the coroner has been called to the scene for the deputy involved in the shooting we are asking for prayers for all involved and for the deputies family

— Stone County Office of Emergency Management (@county_of) July 18, 2019

The deputy was a Stone County Sheriff's deputy.

The office said in a tweet that the alleged shooter was "down," but did not elaborate. The incident occurred near the area of Flag Road in southwest Stone County.

Arkansas State Police confirmed to ABC News the deputy died at the scene. Another person, who was not identified, was also killed and one person was wounded, state police said in a news release.

Agents with the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division are investigating the incident.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.


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artran/iStock(HONOLULU) -- After a dramatic rescue in Hawaii's high surf, ocean safety officials on the island have doubled down on the importance of adhering to posted warnings.

A married couple from Oklahoma on vacation in Oahu allegedly ignored warnings for a photo opp and got swept out to sea by one of the biggest swells of the year.

Witnesses told ABC News that the couple fell into the ocean after they went down a cliff, past warning signs to a remote area in hopes of taking photos. While witness Chevz Rafael took video, his wife, who did not want to be named, called 911.

The raucous waves separated the couple, and Rafael captured footage of the woman drifting away as waves began to crash overhead.

Lt. Kawika Eckart, who oversees the lifeguards that conducted the couple's rescue Sunday, told ABC News the team in Hanauma Bay was prepared for anything.

"We had a jet ski operator in the ocean already due to the high surf; they responded from around the coast and met up with the [other] two lifeguards," Eckart said. "We put them on our jet ski and brought them into Hanauma Bay."

Shayne Enright, the PIO officer for Honolulu Emergency Services Department, told ABC News she reached out to the couple, who has not been identified, and confirmed they are in stable condition.

Eckart, who has been a lifeguard for 30 years, said this is not the first time onlookers have risked their safety for a picture in unsafe conditions on a cliff coastline with no lifeguard on duty.

"People tend to want to take that picture and end up getting swept out into the ocean. For us to respond, it takes time. You're not at a guarded beach," he explained. "By that time there could be trouble."

The lifeguards, who arrived within nine minutes, credited the bystanders for keeping an eye on the couple and immediately calling for help.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- More than 200 damaging storms were reported on Wednesday, with most of those in the Midwest or along the Interstate 95 corridor.

In Connecticut, lightning struck a tree, knocking a branch onto a car and killing a 21-year-old man inside. Six tornadoes were reported across Minnesota, Wyoming and Nebraska, while flash flooding was seen from South Dakota all the way into New York City.

The Upper Midwest could see severe storms on Thursday that include damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes.

More than 30 states, from New Mexico to New Hampshire, are under heat alerts Thursday morning, with the heat index in some parts of the Plains reaching 112.

The core of the hottest air is expected to spread from the Plains into Chicago and Detroit, where it should feel like more than 110 degrees.

By Saturday, the highest heat indices will hit the Northeast, where Philadelphia and New York City will feel about 110.

More heat is expected on Sunday as well.

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Slavica/iStock(FAIRFIELD, Conn.) -- A young man was killed in Connecticut amid stormy weather Wednesday evening when a large tree branch that was struck by lightning fell on his car, authorities said.

Jarrod Marotto, 21, was driving along a residential street in Fairfield, Connecticut, when lightning struck a nearby cottonwood tree, causing a large limb to fall and land on the driver's side of Marotto's vehicle, according to the Fairfield Police Department.

First responders found Marotto unconscious in the driver's seat. Marotto, of Southington, Connecticut, was taken to a local hospital where he died, police said.

There was no one else in the car at the time of the incident, which is still under investigation, policed said.

A severe thunderstorm watch was issued Wednesday night across the Northeast region for Wednesday night, from Philadelphia to Boston.

Forecasters warned of damaging wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour and potential flash flooding.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A former IT contractor for Jeffrey Epstein who said that he ended their business relationship over personal concerns about gaggles of apparently unsupervised young women on the embattled financier's private island told ABC News that his reluctance to continue working there was underscored by what he said was an extensive collection of photos of topless women displayed throughout the island's compounds.

“There were photos of topless women everywhere," said contractor Steve Scully, who said he worked for Epstein for six years beginning in 1999. "On his desk, in his office, in his bedroom,” Scully, a 69-year-old father of three girls, said of the private island dubbed "Little St. James."

Scully told ABC News that he was the chief owner and operator of a telecommunications business on the island of St. Thomas when he was contracted by Epstein to set up a communications network on Little St. James. During his employment, he estimated that he visited the exclusive island more than 100 times.

He said his memories of Epstein remain vivid.

“He was the most intense person I ever met,” Scully said.

Epstein, 66 -- who at one time socialized with former President Bill Clinton, Great Britain's Prince Andrew, and President Donald Trump -- has been charged with alleged sex trafficking of minor girls in Florida and New York. Some of the charges date back to the early 2000s.

Epstein has denied the charges. An attorney for the financier did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Scully's claims.

A team of law enforcement officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York Police Department (NYPD) took Epstein into custody at the Teterboro Airport in Bergen County, New Jersey, after he returned to the United States by private jet from France, sources told ABC News.

Epstein wanted phone or internet access nearly everywhere on the 72-acre island, Scully said, including in a secluded cove that the financier referred to as “the grotto.” Given his work in high-volume financial trading, Scully said, Epstein “never wanted a call to drop” because of weak digital coverage on the island.

The island's primary compound was arranged in a “Danish style” layout -- with individual bedroom suites in individual buildings surrounding a courtyard, Scully recalled, including a pair of large cockatoo statues lording over the island's gardens. He said that at one point, he recalled Epstein wanting to change the name of the island from "Little St. James" to “Little Saint Jeff.”

The lush, secluded paradise off the eastern coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands remains well-maintained despite Epstein's incarceration, with imported palm trees that line the island’s sandy perimeter like toy sentries.

An ABC News producer that rode past the island on a rented boat this week witnessed employees wearing light blue polo shirts buzzing around the property on golf carts. The shoreline is dotted with little buoys marked with “LSJ” -- identifying the island “Little St. James.”

On a recent afternoon, a group of a dozen men and one woman, wearing the light blue polos, disembarked from a power boat docked at American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook. ABC News attempted to speak with them, but most declined for fear, they said, of losing their jobs. Other former or current employees who have worked on Little St. James refused to speak on the record, citing an existing NDA or fear of retribution.

A colorful building that some news reports have called the "temple" was actually a gym where Epstein worked out when he was on the island, Scully said, noting in an interview with ABC News that the gym had a memorable feature -- a massive framed photo of a topless woman.

Scully said he also recalled another notable feature of the island's residences.

“He had stacks and stacks of extreme martial arts DVDs,” Scully said.

But it’s what Scully said he saw on the island itself more than six years ago that led him to agree to an interview with ABC News: revolving groups of young girls that appeared to him to be minors who were guests on the island.

“They couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 years old," he said.

Scully said that he would see them on the island whenever he visited for work, riding ATVs, or at times bathing topless on the island's pools and beaches.

Scully said he became increasingly alarmed by the presence of these groups of young girls that appeared to him to be without any visible parental supervision.

“The truth is, I was there for 6 years," he explained. "I really started seeing things weren’t normal in the first year. And I started ... I wear shame and guilt," he confessed. Because you know what? When you allow money to dictate your moral consciousness, you’ve lost all idea of moral consciousness. It’s not about the money. It can’t be.”

ABC News reviewed invoices provided by Scully during the time period of his employment, each billed to “Little St. James” -- one of Epstein’s corporations. Scully estimated that he did about $400,000 worth of business with Epstein -- something that he said he now regrets.

While he said that he hasn’t spoken to Epstein in more than a decade, Scully said that he still recalls some of the financier's more peculiar practices.

Scully described a storage room on the island with “stacks and stacks of brand new Lacoste white polo shirts, all size medium.”

When he inquired about the unusual supply of identical attire, he said that he was told that the shirts were for "Mr. Epstein."

He said that he was told by an employee on the island that Epstein only wears a shirt once, and then discards it, to be turned into rags for the housekeeping staff. A representative for Epstein could not immediately be reached for comment on Scully's claims.

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Jose Jimenez/Getty Images(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- Police in Puerto Rico deployed tear gas near the governor's mansion in San Juan late Wednesday after someone on the protesters' side tossed fireworks nearby.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths. Police earlier had requested protesters leave the area immediately in front of the mansion.

Residents, officials and authorities in San Juan earlier in the day were gearing up for large demonstrations in the Puerto Rican capital, as protesters went back to the streets to continue demanding the resignation of embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosello.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told ABC News in a call on Tuesday night that she expected Wednesday's planned protest to be the largest they have seen yet -- with 20,000 people marching from the Capitol building to the governor's mansion. She credited the involvement of musical artists who had called for protests.

On Saturday, the nonprofit journalism group Center of Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of conversations from a leaked group chat between Rosello and several top aides that detail efforts to manipulate public narratives, operations to discredit negative press coverage and criticism of opposition leaders.

The conversations, made through the Telegram app, also contain sexist, homophobic and misogynistic comments from the members of the group, according to the report. These messages have not been independently authenticated by ABC News. After the revelation of the messages, Rossello announced the resignation of a number of government officials including Luis Rivera Marin, the secretary of state.

"I have not committed any illegal acts, or corrupt acts. I committed an improper act," Rossello said of the Telegram chat group messages.

But by Monday, the Old San Juan streets surrounding the governor's mansion were filled with hundreds of protesters calling for Rossello to leave. Clashes left nearly two dozen police officers injured.

On Tuesday, Rossello apologized for his involvement in the messaging but insisted that he would not resign.

"I'm not proud of what I did. Those were merely comments, but they were hurtful comments. And I apologize for what I've done. But, I need to move forward, continue on with the work I'm doing for Puerto Rico," he said.

He said he understood Monday night’s protests were a direct message against him and his administration.

"I will continue in my job," a defiant Rossello said from the governor’s mansion, adding "my commitment is to keep on working."

On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean said that a second cruise ship -- this time, the Harmony of the Seas -- would not be stopping in San Juan because of concerns about the demonstrations.

"Due to the ongoing civil unrest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we have cancelled Harmony of the Seas’ call to San Juan. Harmony will now sail to St. Maarten, her next scheduled port of call. Concern for the safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew members is our top priority," the company said.

The previous day, Royal Caribbean said it that had canceled a planned stop to the city by its Empress of the Seas and would be rerouting to Tortola.

"Our guests will receive refunds for prepaid shore excursions. We continue to monitor the situation closely and will make adjustments as necessary," the company said in part.

In response to the news that the Empress of the Seas would not be docking in San Juan, Cruz told ABC News Tuesday night that there are times where one has to "forego a little today to ensure a lot tomorrow."

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a written statement on Tuesday that the latest political developments on the island "prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid."

The governor responded to the White House’s comments, saying "Corruption is a social evil. It’s a social evil in the private sector, it’s a social evil in local government, it’s a social evil in the federal government."

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Nick J./iStock(NEW YORK) -- The Marine Corps will consider extending maternity leave to up to one full year, in what would amount to a significant policy change for the service.

In his planning guide to the force, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger called the service's parental/maternity leave policies "inadequate," and said they "have failed to keep pace with societal norms and modern talent management practices."

"We should never ask our Marines to choose between being the best parent possible and the best Marine possible," said Berger, who assumed the role of commandant last week.

The Defense Department provides a standard 12-week maternity policy -- the same amount of time mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which requires employers to provide "unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons." But the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that doesn't mandate paid leave.

Even some of the most generous private sector maternity leave policies do not allow a full year of time off.

"We fully support the growth of our Marine families, and will do everything possible to provide parents with opportunities to remain with their newborns for extended periods of time," Berger said. "In the future, we will consider up to one year leaves-of-absence for mothers to remain with their children before returning to full duty to complete their service obligations."

Last year, the Marine Corps announced it would increase paternity leave, also called secondary caregiver leave, from 10 to 14 days and allow greater flexibility in how families use leave.

Compared to the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Marine Corps has the smallest force and the lowest percentage of women in the ranks.

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Hennepin County Sheriffs Office(MINNEAPOLIS) -- A Minnesota truck driver was allegedly watching pornographic videos on his cellphone just moments before he caused a deadly highway crash, prosecutors said.

Semi-truck driver Tate Doom, 47, was charged with criminal vehicular homicide over the 2018 crash on Interstate 94 in southeast Minnesota that left a construction worker dead and another injured, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News on Wednesday.

Doom was allegedly speeding when he plowed into the back of a Ford pickup truck and an attached trailer in a construction zone.

The trailer separated from the truck during the crash and slammed into 59-year-old Vernon Hedquist, killing the construction worker on the scene. Another worker was stuck by debris and treated for injuries.

Doom allegedly deleted 14 pornographic video files from his cellphone shortly after the crash. Investigators, who recovered the deleted videos, said he opened the last video at 2:07:41 p.m., less than two minutes before the crash, according to a criminal complaint.

"A number of video files had been manually deleted from the phone prior to troopers taking possession of the phone," the complaint said. "As noted, forensic analysis of defendant's cellphone indicates the fourteenth such file was opened moments prior to impact."

Surveillance footage from the state's department of transportation shows the pickup truck merging into the center lane of the highway "well in advance of impact" at a speed of about 50 miles per hour, ABC affiliate KSTP-TV reported. Doom told police that he was traveling at 50 miles per hour when the collision happened, but investigators said he was doing about 72 miles per hour, according to the complaint. He also denied using his cellphone while driving.

Doom has not yet entered a plea. It is unclear if he has retained an attorney.

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amphotora/iStock(LOS ANGELES) -- A veteran Los Angeles Police Department officer was arrested on multiple sexual assault charges after DNA from one case allegedly linked him to a different cold case from 2015, authorities said Wednesday.

Officer William Rodriguez, 33, was charged with two counts of forcible rape and relieved of duty this week after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her last year, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said evidence linked Rodriguez, a 10-year veteran of the police force, to a sexual assault involving an acquaintance of his who claimed she was assaulted at his home in November 2018.

The investigation led to the discovery of a second alleged sexual assault that occurred in 2015 "under similar circumstances," according to the DA's office. Both alleged offenses took place while the officer was off duty, prosecutors said.

"The investigation into the latter case uncovered a second, unsolved sexual assault from 2015 when the defendant’s DNA was entered into the state’s DNA database prompting a 'cold hit' notification," the DA's office said in a statement Wednesday. "That assault involved another female victim who allegedly was raped under similar circumstances."

Rodriguez is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday. Prosecutors have recommended that his bail be set at $1.2 million.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he was deeply disturbed by the allegations.

"When one of our own breaks the trust of the people we are sworn to protect and to serve, it tarnishes the badge we all wear proudly on our chests," Moore said in a statement Wednesday. "This arrest also reflects our commitment to pursue every lead no matter where the investigation takes us."

Rodriguez was most recently assigned to the Valley Traffic Division. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years to life in prison if convicted as charged.

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kirisa99/iStock(CHARLESTON, W.Va.) -- Residents in West Virginia are using wasp spray as an alternative form of methamphetamine, according to officials.

West Virginia State Police called the use of wasp spray a “cheap fix” for the drug.

“People are making a synthetic type methamphetamine out of wasp spray,” Sgt. Charles Sutphin told ABC Charleston affiliate WCHS-TV Monday.

Police believe wasp spray was behind three overdoses last week. It was not immediately clear how the people consumed the spray.

Sutphin said the physical effects include erratic behavior, extreme swelling and redness of the hands and feet.

Pyrethroid, a chemical found in wasp sprays, can cause allergic reactions in some people and repeated exposure could increase the intensity of the reaction, according to a recent study done by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on pesticides.

Sutphin echoed the notion that the more often one encounters wasp spray, the more dangerous it becomes.

“From what we're being told, if you use it, you know, you might use it one or twice and be fine, but the third time when your body hits that allergic reaction, it can kill you,” he told WCHS.

Dr. Rutherfoord Rose, the director of the Virginia Poison Control, told ABC News Wednesday that fatal allergic reactions from pyrethroid are rather uncommon but a person could be seriously poisoned.

He noted that the the trend of abusing household items to get high is not new, specifically mentioning the idea of sniffing white-out, paint and whipped cream.

“There’s a long history of people attempting to use products in an attempt to recreate some kind of high,” Rose said.

The reasons for using wasp spray as an alternative form of meth, he said, could be a result of what he described as a more restrictive opioid market.

“It's not surprising that as the opioid market becomes more restricted, people are turning to other things," he said.

“It’s a sign or a symptom of a larger problem we have … we work on the supply, but there’s also the demand and that’s a lot harder. If you restrict the supply of some things, they’ll turn to something else," he said.

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@Lauren2point_oh/Twitter(NEW YORK) -- Beachgoers in Georgia attempted to save the lives of more than 20 pilot whales that beached themselves along the coast, according to officials.

The pod of whales began turning up on the beach on St. Simons Island Tuesday afternoon, prompting hundreds of volunteers to push them back out to sea, according to Glynn County EMA and Homeland Security.

Several videos posted to social media show the volunteers surrounding the whales as they collectively heaved them from the sand to the water.

At least two of the whales died, including one that was euthanized, but the rest were safely returned to the water, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. They were last seen swimming in the St. Simons Sound, "and it is hoped they will continue to keep moving out to sea," the statement read.

It is unclear what caused the strandings, but they are a "natural occurrence," Clay George, wildlife biologist with the GPNR, said in a press release.

"The only thing we can do is to continue pushing them out to sea," George said.

Pilot whales are the most common species among cetaceans known to strand in mass numbers, according to the department.

Pilot whales have a herd mentality and may have followed the leader toward the sand, experts told ABC Jacksonville affiliate WJXX-TV.

Possible theories are that the leader could have been suffering from an injury or some sort of infection, or followed prey too close to the shore, WJXX reported.

One witness told the station that it was "really exciting" to see all the volunteers trying to help them.

The whales that died will be taken for necropsies.

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Zinkevych/iStock(IDAHO FALLS, Idaho) -- In the 1990s, Christopher Tapp was sent to prison for the rape and murder of Idaho teen Angie Dodge.

Despite his DNA not matching evidence found at the crime scene, he was still convicted based on the theory that multiple people were involved in the crime.

On Wednesday, after decades of proclaiming his innocence and claiming his confession was coerced, Tapp was finally exonerated due to the novel DNA technique of genetic genealogy, which was used to find identify a new suspect in Dodge's murder.

Stepping out of the courthouse, Tapp told reporters, "I hope that things get learned from this mistake and I hope things get changed."

"I'm glad I was able to come out the other end and still smile and still be happy," he said.

"I accepted the fact that I was gonna be a convicted felon," Tapp said. "Now I don't ever have to worry about that. It's a new life, a new beginning, a new world for me. And I'm just gonna enjoy it every day."

Tapp added, "I hope nobody ever forgets Angie Dodge."

Mystery DNA and a coerced confession

The case dates back to June 13, 1996, when 18-year-old Dodge was raped and killed in her Idaho Falls apartment.

Semen and hair was collected at the scene and DNA testing showed they belonged to the same suspect, according to the Idaho Falls Police. Detectives canvassed the neighborhood in their search for the killer, but to no avail.

In January 1997, Tapp, then a 20-year-old living in Idaho Falls, confessed to being involved in the rape and murder, according to authorities.

His DNA didn't match the semen and hair samples but police said "an existing theory was that multiple people were involved and Tapp was suspected to have been one of those people."

Tapp -- a "kid" "scared for his life" -- sat through nine interrogations, his attorney, John Thomas, told ABC News.

"Tapp's confession matched details from the crime scene and included assertions that he had not acted alone," said police. "Based on his confessions, knowledge of the crime, and other facts that supported a theory that multiple people had been involved in the rape and murder, Tapp was convicted in 1998 by a jury."

No information from Tapp -- who is now 43 -- led to more arrests or the person who left behind DNA, police added.

A proclamation of innocence

In 2001, Tapp said his confession was coerced and that he was innocent, but Idaho's supreme court affirmed the conviction, police said. The Idaho Innocence Project took up Tapp's case as one of their first and pushed for his exoneration.

Tapp filed several petitions for post-conviction relief over the years, and in 2017, while a petition was pending, he made a plea deal to amend his sentence.

To secure the deal, Thomas presented new DNA evidence and argued that Tapp's confession was coerced.

In 1997, after being "coerced and pressured" by investigators, Tapp told police he held Dodge down by her wrists during the rape and murder, Thomas said. Dodge's hands were swabbed for DNA but were not tested until 2016; that test found DNA was only present from Dodge and the killer -- not Tapp, said Thomas. It was unclear why the evidence wasn't tested at the time.

In the 2017 deal, the rape conviction was vacated, Tapp's murder sentence was reduced to time served and he was freed, said Thomas.

New technology finds a new suspect

Idaho Falls police say the search for the mystery suspect who left DNA at the crime scene never stopped in the years after Dodge's killing.

In November 2018, police turned to genetic genealogy.

Genetic genealogy -- a novel technique that compares unknown DNA evidence to public genetic databases to identify suspects through their family members -- has been called a "game-changer" in the effort to crack cold cases.

Since the arrest of the suspected "Golden State Killer" in April 2018, about 70 suspects have been identified through the technology, according to CeCe Moore, the chief genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs, which investigated the Dodge murder among others.

Moore, who also appeared as an expert in ABC News "20/20" episodes, said she started building family trees of people who shared DNA with the unknown suspect and with each other, and found where those intersected in one marriage. She was spurred on by Dodge's mother who inspired her to push thru this case even though it was so difficult.

"I knew the suspect had to be a descendant of that marriage, so I narrowed it down to six men who were descendants of that couple. And five of the six on that list lived over 1,000 miles away, didn't have any connection to Idaho that we could find. One of them did live in Idaho," Moore told ABC News.

In February, investigators surveilled the man who lived in Idaho, obtaining a wad of discarded chewing tobacco from him, said police.

That man not only was not a match to the DNA at the crime scene, but he was also found not to be close relative to the suspect, Moore said.

While Moore felt like she "was back to square one," she said she also was "aware of the fact there could be a missing descendant."

Moore remembered that one of the men in the family had gotten married early and then divorced. While there didn't appear to be a child from the marriage, she thought it was possible that a child was born shortly after they separated.

"I went back to my research and tried to find what happened to that woman... we finally found her by finding her mother's obituary, which listed her current name and listed a son," Moore said.

It turns out Moore's hunch was correct -- that son was from the first marriage but carried his stepfather's last name -- Dripps.

In May, detectives went to Caldwell, Idaho, to investigate Brian Dripps Sr.

Investigators recovered a cigarette butt Dripps threw out of his car window -- and the DNA on the cigarette butt was found to be a match to the semen and hair at the crime scene, police said.

As it turned out, Dripps lived across the street from Dodge when she was killed. Detectives even spoke to him five days after the slaying during a neighborhood canvass, police said.

But he moved away from Idaho Falls the year of the murder, police said.

Dripps, 53, was arrested on May 15 and charged with Dodge's murder and rape, police said. In a police interview, once confronted with the DNA evidence, he admitted to the crime and said he went into Dodge's apartment alone.

Dripps has not entered a plea and his attorney did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. He has a motion hearing set for Thursday and a preliminary hearing on Aug. 7.

Also, in May of this year, a key witness in the case reportedly recanted her testimony, according to the Post-Register newspaper.

'The power of genetic genealogy'

Tapp, who was released from prison in 2017, is married and working at a local plastic bag factory, his lawyer said.

"He's doing well," his lawyer, Thomas told ABC News on Tuesday, but getting back his family's name will mean a lot to him.

"It is a huge thing for him and his mom. They're the last two Tapps of his particular line," he said. "He hasn't had any children. He's an only child for his mom."

"It's hard for me to fathom or believe it still," Tapp told ABC News hours before the exoneration hearing. "For me it's just the disappointment I've received over the last 22.5 years.... I just didn't know what was gonna happen, if the state or the judge or anybody would do the right thing."

On Wednesday afternoon, a judge approved prosecutors' motion for post-conviction relief, making Tapp the first person to be exonerated for murder thanks to genetic genealogy, said Moore.

Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark said he believed there was clear and convincing evidence of Tapp's innocence.

Tapp was accused of helping with the murder, not being the sole killer, and Clark says investigators believe Dripps' alleged confession was to acting alone.

Ethically "my obligation is to remedy that conviction," Clark told ABC News before the hearing. "That's a very sobering thing to be involved in, no doubt."

Moore called Tapp's case a highlight of her career.

"I'm more excited and exhilarated about this than I think anything else. It's just such an incredible feeling to be a part of clearing an innocent man's name," she said.

Moore believes genetic genealogy will help with more exonerations going forward.

"There's been so much focus put on arresting the violent criminals -- which is very important -- but I always thought there wasn't enough attention put on the fact that when we do that, we're clearing a lot of other potential persons of interest, or even suspects," Moore said.

"So it's been less formal with all the other cases, but there are many other cases where people's names have been cleared thanks to genetic genealogy, people who have carried burdens for years," she said. "So I think this is very important to demonstrate the power of genetic genealogy, not just to convict people, but also to exonerate."

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