'To Catch a Predator': A Sting Gone Bad

Despite all of its success in bringing attention to the problem of adults sexually preying on children over the Internet, NBC's "Dateline" series, "To Catch a Predator," has raised some troubling questions for both law enforcement and the news media.

As six other police departments had done before, the Murphy, Texas police department made a deal with "Dateline": to allow NBC cameras to record the sting and to let people hired by "Dateline" actually set up and run the sting, much to the astonishment of a local district attorney.

Photos: A Sting Gone Bad

In a letter sent to the Murphy police department in advance, Collin County District Attorney John Roach said the deal was a bad idea.

We're "in the law enforcement business, not show business," read the letter. 

In an interview with ABC News, Roach explained his letter,"The police department, the professionals weren't in control of the entire operation. They weren't calling the shots; somebody else was."

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But the district attorney's warning was ignored.

The sting set up by NBC and Perverted Justice -- a civilian watchdog group hired as a paid consultant by NBC -- brought in some 20 men, who were arrested as alleged sexual predators.

But the one man, the one very important man "Dateline" thought it had caught, did not show up. 

William Conradt, 56, an assistant district attorney in a neighboring county, did not go to the sting house even after Dateline had one of its actors call him three different times to get him to walk into the trap. 

Watch the Brian Ross Investigates Webcast

"There's no question that they wanted him," said Bruce Baron, the attorney representing the Conradt family in a lawsuit against NBC. "There's no question that they would take him at any price."

With Conradt not taking the bait, a decision was made to go get him at his home in the nearby town of Terrell.

It was a decision that would raise questions about why the rush to arrest him on a Sunday afternoon.

Former Murphy police officer Sam Love, who appeared on "To Catch a Predator" and has since left the force in disgust, says the decision was made at the suggestion of NBC's Chris Hansen.

"Their hope was that the man would come out to go to the store for something or the church or whatever, and Chris Hansen and his crew could confront him and interview him before the arrest was made," Love told ABC News. 

NBC and the Murphy police deny NBC played any role in the decision to make the arrest, which involved a swat team breaking down Conradt's door when he did not answer.

Conradt's sister Patricia told "20/20" the police broke in and then headed down a hallway to the bedroom where her brother was waiting for them with a gun in his hand.

"They came in, and they see him," Patricia said. "He says, 'Guys, I'm not gonna hurt anybody.' And then he put the gun to his head and shot."

Police called in a helicopter to rush the critically injured suspect to the hospital.

William Conradt died shortly after the helicopter landed at a Dallas hospital.

"I understand he took his own life, but I have a feeling that he took his own life when he  looked out the door and saw there were a bunch of television cameras outside," said former Murphy detective Walt Weiss, who like Love, left the force in disgust.

The two former Murphy detectives say many in their department shrugged off Conradt's death.

"It didn't matter that that person died because he was just, in their opinion, a child molester or a pervert, if you will," Weiss told ABC News. "I mean it was pushed aside and shoved under the rug."

NBC and Perverted Justice have both strongly defended their actions in the case, but no one from either organization would agree to appear on "20/20."

In a "Dateline" update broadcast just a few days ago, reporter Chris Hansen offered a new possible explanation for Conradt's suicide, saying "they found child pornography on his computer" after his death.

As for the other 23 alleged sexual predators arrested that day, the district attorney, John Roach, has thrown out their cases, saying the police's reliance on NBC "Dateline's" investigation compromised the evidence obtained.

Murphy police chief Bill Myrick adamantly denies this.

Watch the "20/20" Investigation on a Sting Gone Bad -- Part 1

Watch the "20/20" Investigation on a Sting Gone Bad -- Part 2


NBC News Response to a 'Sting Gone Bad'

NBC News has now responded to this ABC News report about a "Sting Gone Bad" during a "Dateline" "To Catch a Predator" operation in Murphy, Texas last year.

Click here to read their response.

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