Others aren’t so sanguine. Galen Ray Sumrow, the criminal district attorney of Rockwall County, Texas, who heads the office where Conradt worked as an assistant district attorney, has reviewed evidence surrounding the case and believes it was badly botched. Among the problems he cites are that the search warrant obtained by the Murphy police officers was defective because it had the wrong date and listed the wrong county for service, basic errors that he believes would have gotten any evidence seized from Conradt’s home tossed out of court. He is also mystified as to why the police would force their way into Conradt’s home when they could have tried to talk him out, or just picked him up at work the next day. “He was here in the office every morning,” says Sumrow, who is himself a former police officer and has been prosecuting cases for more than twenty years. “You generally like to do an arrest like that away from the home to avoid things like what happened.” A sworn affidavit supporting the warrant also shows that the information about Conradt’s online activities was given to the Murphy police by Perverted Justice just hours before they went to arrest him. Why were the police in such a rush to pick up Conradt? Texas Rangers are investigating that question, but Sumrow thinks he knows the answer: “It’s reality television,” he says. Sumrow says an investigator told him the police pushed things because the Dateline people had plane tickets to fly home that afternoon and wanted to get the bust on film for the show. He says investigators also told him that film excerpts show Dateline personnel, including Hansen, interacting with police on the scene, supplying them with information, and advising them on tactics. Sergeant Snow Robertson of the Murphy police says accommodating Dateline’s schedule “wasn’t a factor at all.” Rather, he says, the urgency was to keep Conradt from contacting another minor. Dateline’s Hansen confirms that he was to fly out that Sunday, but says such plans are always subject to change and that he hadn’t even checked out of his hotel. He also denies advising the police during the operation at Conradt’s house. “This stuff is not remotely based in fact,” Hansen says.
At a town meeting called to discuss the Dateline sting operations, several Murphy residents expressed outrage that a parade of suspected sexual predators were lured to their community. Neighbors recounted police takedowns and car chases on their blocks, and some said fleeing suspects tossed drugs and other contraband into their yards. In a statement to the Murphy City Council, Conradt’s sister, Patricia, directly implicated Dateline in her brother’s death. “I will never consider my brother’s death a suicide,” she said. “It was an act precipitated by the rush to grab headlines where there was no evidence that there was any emergency other than to line the pockets of an out-of-control group and a TV show pressed for ratings and a deadline.” She added: “When these people came after him for a news show, it ended his life.” In an interview, she was even more direct: “They have blood on their hands,” she said, referring to Dateline, the police, and Perverted Justice.
In a sense, Conradt’s death was a tragedy foretold. In a piece for Radar magazine about the show, the writer John Cook quoted an unnamed Dateline producer as saying that “one of these guys is going to go home and shoot himself in the head.” When I asked Hansen and David Corvo, Dateline’s executive producer, if they were reviewing the show’s procedures in light of Conradt’s death, both said that there was no evidence to suggest that Conradt was aware of Dateline’s presence when he shot himself (though a camera crew was apparently on his block for hours before the police arrived), and that there were no plans to alter how the “Predator” series is handled. “I still feel like the show is a public service,” said Corvo. “We do investigations that expose people doing things not good for them. You can’t predict the unintended consequences of that. You have to let the chips fall where they may.”