By Jared Fields, Editor in Chief
“I’m not going to hurt anyone.”
Bill Conradt was talking about the SWAT team surrounding him, not about himself.
Rockwall County’s chief felony assistant district attorney spoke his last words Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006, as the Terrell SWAT team surrounded and entered his home. He knew he would be arrested-the team had camped on his lawn all morning.
As a prosecutor, he knew the punishment for soliciting sex with a 13-year-old boy.
The twist comes from who gave the orders. Not the Terrell Police Department, but NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” called the shots and possibly caused Conradt’s suicide. On top of it all, none of the cases stemming from the Dateline sting created an indictment.
After critical stories published in Rolling Stone and Esquire, Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” responded last week with its version to the events in the Murphy, Texas, case.
Chris Hanson, the “To Catch a Predator” host, denied reports that he, Dateline or Perverted Justice, the independent group of computer- geeks who pose as minors for their own vigilante justice, did any wrong by pushing through an arrest warrant for Conradt.
Perverted Justice lured Conradt into sexually explicit Internet and phone messages before inviting him to a decoy house where Chris Hansen would confront the perpetrators and then have the police arrest them.
The catch was huge. Hansen wouldn’t let this one go.
He nailed teachers, cops, soldiers, a doctor and rabbi- among others-before but never a prosecutor.
Conradt never came to the house. In fact, he quit returning messages from the decoy and backed off completely.
Instead of waiting for Monday when Conradt went to work, the police accommodated Dateline’s schedule and hurried search and arrest warrants for Conradt.
In Dateline’s response, Hansen defends himself and the show by stating how the police need little more than a confession.
Dateline possessed all the chat and phone logs but claimed they could indict and convict an offender without documentation.
Yet Dateline wanted TV dramatics. How boring is an arrest without guns, yelling or spectacular confrontation?
Dateline also responded to the Esquire article last week, saying they never had any contact with the police department nor told them what to do.
So why did Lynn Keller, the lead producer for the show, tell a detective, “You’re working for Dateline now,” when he questioned the show’s motives for issuing a warrant?
Because the show is no better than the people they are after.
Maybe Conradt harbored such sick thoughts in his mind, but the response did not justify the action.
Warrants, SWAT teams, national humiliation: Conradt deserved none of it- no matter the thought-for possessing the self-control to stop himself before committing the act.
Chris Hansen and crew represent a dark, ugly side of journalism even journalists won’t claim. He goes beyond yellow-journalism, beyond muckraking, beyond ethical newsgathering.
Online predators belong in jail. But those who cause the wrongful death of a peaceful man deserve justice too.