"NBC Dateline" pedophile sting stirs up suburb
A sting in which police teamed up with "Dateline NBC" to catch online pedophiles was supposed to send a flinty-eyed, Texas-style warning...
The Associated Press
MURPHY, Texas — A sting in which police teamed up with "Dateline NBC" to catch online pedophiles was supposed to send a flinty-eyed, Texas-style warning about this Dallas suburb: Don't mess with Murphy.
Instead, it has turned into a fiasco.
One of the 25 men caught in the sting — a prosecutor from a neighboring county — committed suicide when police came to arrest him. The Murphy city manager who approved the operation lost his job in the ensuing furor.
And the district attorney is refusing to prosecute any of the men, saying the involvement of amateurs tainted cases.
"Certainly these people should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but the fact that this was all done for television cameras raises some questions," said Mayor Bret Baldwin.
It is the first time in nine "Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator" stings across the country in the past year and a half that prosecutors did not pursue charges.
"Dateline" has made prime-time entertainment out of contacting would-be child molesters over the Internet, luring them to a meeting place and videotaping their humiliating confrontations with reporter Chris Hansen.
"Dateline" works with an activist group called Perverted Justice, which supplies adults who troll Internet chat rooms, posing as underage boys and girls and trying to collect incriminating sex talk.
City manager Craig Sherwood approved such an operation in this well-to-do community of 11,000 after being approached by "Dateline" and Perverted Justice, but he never informed the mayor or the City Council. He said secrecy was necessary for the sting to be effective.
Over four days in November, 24 men were arrested at a two-story home in Murphy after allegedly arranging to meet boys or girls there.
Some other suspects contacted Perverted Justice decoys online but never showed up at the house. Among them was Louis Conradt Jr., an assistant prosecutor from neighboring Kauffman County, who allegedly engaged in a sexually explicit online chat with an adult posing as a 13-year-old boy.
As police knocked at his door and a "Dateline" camera crew waited in the street, Conradt shot himself.
His sister, Patricia Conradt, told the City Council that police acted as "a judge, jury and executioner that was encouraged by an out-of-control reality show."
Then, last month, Collin County District Attorney John Roach dropped all charges. He said that in 16 of the cases, he had no jurisdiction, since neither the suspects nor the decoys were in the county during the online chats.
As for the rest of the cases, he said neither police nor NBC could guarantee the chat logs were authentic and complete.
"The fact that somebody besides police officers were involved is what makes this case bad," said Roach, who was informed of the sting in advance but did not participate. "If professionals had been running the show, they would have done a much better job rather than being at the beck and call of outsiders."
As details of the suicide emerged, Murphy's mayor, City Council and most of its residents learned for the first time that potential molesters were being lured to their city. Many were furious.
"They can chase predators all they want, but they shouldn't do it in a populated area with children, two blocks from an elementary school," said Lisa Watson, a Murphy resident.
NBC's Hansen said Murphy is the only place the show has encountered such resistance.
"I don't want to get involved in the DA's business or the police business," he said. "I can tell you in the other locations, these issues did not come up."
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.