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 many of the cases were tainted by the involvement of amateurs.
“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 try 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.
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 Kaufman 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 (above) 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.