Louis William "Bill" Conradt, Jr. (January 30, 1950 - November 5, 2006) was a Democratic district attorney in Texas. He became inextricably linked to Dateline NBC's To Catch a Predator, a TV series documenting "sexual predator stings", after he committed suicide when a SWAT team entered his house, with Dateline cameras recording the action.
Events and reaction
Among the numerous stings that To Catch a Predator and Perverted Justice conducted, Conradt's was unique in that the show's producers and police decided to go to Conradt's home. In other cases, To Catch a Predator lured suspected sex offenders with an actor or actress pretending to be a teenager, into a home that was wired with cameras and surrounded by police. Conradt had apparently declined the actor's offers and subsequent phone calls.
Conradt's death prompted increased criticism of the show, which was already being criticized by some in the legal and journalistic profession. A year after the incident, Rolling Stone and Esquire published articles attacking To Catch a Predator. Esquire obtained raw footage of the incident that contradicted Dateline's and host Chris Hansen's previous denials of the show's alleged collusion with law enforcement officials.
Hansen did not respond to the Esquire article when the Houston Chronicle asked for comment, but deferred to his spokeswoman, who called the idea that Hansen would dictate police action "preposterous."
Perverted-Justice founder Xavier von Erck called the Esquire article fiction. Though he did not respond to the Esquire story's allegation or supporting evidence that Dateline and PJ directed police actions in the Conradt case, he reiterated his disgust for Conradt's behavior. In an e-mail response to the Houston Chronicle, he wrote, "The idea that anything led to the suicide of Conradt other than his want to avoid potential penalties for soliciting a 13-year-old boy sexually is outlandish. We encourage all interested to read the Conradt chat-logs and verification call recordings. Once you do that, you then immediately know why Conradt shot himself rather than face the criminal justice system."
Personal life and career
Conradt graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and received his law degree at Texas Tech University School of Law. He was the Kaufman County, Texas district attorney for more than two decades before giving up his seat to make a failed run in 2002 to be the 86th State District Judge. Afterwards, he became Rockwall County's chief felony assistant district attorney. Conradt lived in Terrell, about an hour southeast of Murphy, where vigilante group Perverted-Justice, working in conjunction with Dateline had set up shop to conduct its "predator" stings.
Alleged interactions with Perverted-Justice
According to Perverted-Justice logs, Conradt posed as a 19-year-old university student and engaged in sexually charged online chats with someone who Conradt was to believe to be a 13-year-old named Luke. Conradt solicited pictures of "Luke's" penis, and sent pictures purporting to be of his alter ego.
After two weeks, Perverted-Justice and NBC brought in an actor to play "Luke" over the phone. For reasons that are still not known, Conradt stopped responding to phone calls and instant messages. It was then that police and NBC decided to bring the operation to Conradt's home in Terrell.
Conradt's alleged MySpace page
According to Perverted-Justice members, content from Conradt's MySpace page began to disappear, leading them to believe that Conradt was covering up his tracks. This played a part in the decision of the authorities (and Dateline, as some allege) to pursue a warrant for Conradt's arrest. Chris Hansen mentioned the disappearing page on his blog and on-air. Esquire writer Luke Dittrich implies that the disappearing page pushed the participants to make an imminent move (according to Texas law, Conradt had already committed a crime by participating in the explicit chats with a purported child).
Later investigation by Esquire revealed that Conradt's page had not been touched for months before the sting. Perverted-Justice members claimed that Conradt had other Myspace pages, but never produced the evidence for such. Chris Hansen later admitted to Esquire that he did not remember actually seeing the page. The detective who wrote the warrants said the alleged Myspace cover-up by Conradt was never mentioned to him.
According to the Esquire article, members from Perverted-Justice faxed the Collin County District Attorney's office, requesting support for an upcoming sting. District attorney John Roach was surprised that the request came from a civilian group rather than the police. Roach told Esquire that he warned Murphy Police Chief Myrick to not deal with Dateline or Perverted-Justice, and that the DA's office "will take no part in the planning or execution of the sting operation."
After midnight on the day of the sting, Murphy Detective Sam Love alleges that Chris Hansen, or someone else from Dateline, called the operation's headquarters and demanded that the police obtain an arrest and search warrant for Conradt. Detective Walter Weiss told Esquire that he was ordered to acquire the warrants by that morning. He finished the warrant at 11 a.m.
The official participants in the sting included Murphy police and the Terrell Police Department, including Terrell's SWAT team. According to raw footage obtained by Esquire, at least one Dateline cameraman had hidden himself near the Conradt residence door. Chris Hansen and Dateline denied that crew members were on the private property (such an act is illegal). Also in that footage is "Frag," a member of Perverted-Justice, who is seen advising police on what to do next. Chris Hansen denied that Perverted-Justice was present, but recanted when Esquire was able to describe what "Frag" looked like.
The warrants were signed shortly after 2 p.m. By this time, police and Dateline had been on the scene for hours. In fact, Dateline had showed up as long as five hours earlier, and later records showed that neighbors had phoned in suspicious-persons reports.
According to the Esquire account – again, contested by Dateline – Dateline crew members notified police that they observed that a Sunday newspaper on Conradt's doorstep had disappeared, indicating that Conradt was actually home. Later, in an interview with Esquire, Hansen would claim that he did not remember the incident, nor would he characterize anything Dateline did as surveillance for the police.
Using the tip given to them by Dateline, the police made a decision to call in a SWAT team and perform a tactical entry. They feared that Conradt was aware of their presence and was now destroying evidence. The police broke the door's lock and swept through the house. They encountered Conradt in a room. According to the officers' account, Conradt said a variation of "I'm not going to hurt anyone." He then shot himself in the head with a Browning .380 handgun.
On June 1, 2007, the Collin County District Attorney's office announced that it would not pursue any of the indictments that To Catch a Predator had netted. Officials from the DA's office believed that the cases were riddled with errors. More problematically, it appeared that nearly all of the investigative work had been done by Perverted-Justice and Dateline, with the police only playing the role of the arresting force. In its response, PJ said it had complied with the DA, offered assistance and evidence, but had found the DA to be corrupt and lazy.
Detective Walter Weiss, after the failed sting, resigned from the Murphy Police.
Facts from the aired 20 February 2007 episode of To Catch a Predator were used as part of a $100 million lawsuit by Conradt's sister, Patricia Conradt, against NBC Universal Inc. In March 2008, she overcame a significant hurdle when the judge in the case agreed to allow her infliction of emotional distress and civil rights claims to be heard by a jury.
On September 5, 2007, Dateline aired the results of the forensics report on Conradt's computer. According to the report, Conradt's "CDs, laptop computers and cell phone all contained pornographic material -- some included child pornography."
On June 24, 2008, the lawsuit brought before NBC Universal by Patricia Conradt was "amicably resolved" to an unknown settlement.
- Esquire Magazine "Tonight on Dateline This Man Will Die" - Part one of a three-part report on the Conradt incident
- Chron story
- Perverted-Justice logs
- Inside Dateline from MSNBC
- Esquire Magazine "Interview with Chris Hansen: The Transcript" - Part two of a three-part report on the Conradt incident
- Esquire Magazine "The Search Warrant for Bill Conradt's House" - Part three of a three-part report on the Conradt incident
- New York Law Journal (March 3, 2008) Suit Proceeds Against NBC Over Dateline Suicide; Jury Could Find Responsible Journalism Line Crossed. Decision of Interest. Volume 239; Col. 3 (CONRADT v. NBC UNIVERSAL, INC., 07 Civ. 6623, Chin, District Judge Denny).
- Hollywood Reporter on ABC's 20/20 report on Dateline
- LA Times