Arts & Culture News

Chris Hansen Defends the Infamous Murphy To Catch a Predator Sting of 2006

Journalist Chris Hansen seen here taking a rare break from catching predators.
Journalist Chris Hansen seen here taking a rare break from catching predators. Eugene Gologursky/Getty
Dateline's To Catch a Predator series, in which journalist Chris Hansen chatted with men lured to a bait house by an online sting operation investigating child sexual abuse, was an iconic bit of television in the 2000s.

Dateline spent years clawing its way back from a drop in viewer confidence in the '90s after NBC admitted to including a staged crash test in a segment of the news show to bolster claims that some models of General Motors trucks were prone to catching fire in wrecks. GM sued, and NBC admitted it rigged the tests, apologized and compensated GM to settle the suit.

The To Catch a Predator series started in 2004 and became Dateline's most popular segment, spawning four more years of reports. It even became a regular target of pop culture spoofs, being parodied on The Simpsons, 30 Rock and the opening sketch of the 58th Annual Emmy Awards hosted by Conan O'Brien, all of which included an appearance by its host.

In 2008, the series came to a halt following a sting operation in the small city of Murphy, located just east of Plano. The names netted by the online predator operation resulted in zero prosecutions when then-Collin County District Attorney John Roach declined to pursue the cases because of mishandled evidence and improper legal procedures leading up to the sting operation.

The episode also ended with the death of former Rockwall County Assistant District Attorney Louis Conradt Jr., who took his own life as police moved on his home in Terrell when he failed to show at the sting house in Murphy. The moment earned Hansen one last but very critical parody on an episode of Comedy Central's South Park.

Hansen has since launched his own online series and podcasts in which he takes deep dives into the lives of alleged serial predators, most notably on the sexual grooming and assault allegations surrounding prominent YouTube star Greg "Onision" Jackson.

Hansen recently went on another true-crime podcast, Coptales and Cocktails with Sgt. Sean "Sticks" Larkin, on which he made some comments about the infamous Murphy sting and the final moments of Conradt's life. (Conradt's sister Patricia sued NBC Universal following his death, alleging the network's interference in the raid on Louis Conradt's house jeopardized his safety. Both sides came to a settlement in 2008, according to the Los Angeles Times.)

The operation that prompted police to move on Conradt came from two online chats conducted by the private watchdog group Perverted Justice, in which group members posed as minors in online chatrooms to lure sexual predators to a bait house for arrest and prosecution. Unlike the 24 other cases netted by the online sting and Murphy PD for Dateline, Conradt did not go to the house, so the police went to his home in Terrell.

"It's horrible," Hansen said on Coptales and Cocktails. "You never wanna see anybody do that under any circumstances, and it's jarring and it's dark and it's sad for a lot of reasons, but why did he do it?"

Hansen says the police, not him or his TV crew, chose to go to Conradt's home "as a courtesy as opposed to making a big show out of it and arresting him at the DA's office the next day.

"I had no control over that," Hansen says. "I would have preferred television wise if they go to the DA's office the next day because that's a big show."

Police broke their way into Conradt's home and entered a hallway where Hansen says they found Conradt holding a gun to his head insisting that he did not intend to shoot at police. Conradt shot himself and died after being flown to a nearby hospital.

The fallout continued when Roach declined to prosecute the cases presented by Murphy police as a result of the sting. Roach and several Murphy police officers who worked on the cases told WFAA's Byron Harris that evidence was "poorly gathered" and warrants were not obtained before any arrests were made in Murphy. Roach also noted that several of the arrested men came from out of state and presumably were not in Texas when the online chats happened, putting criminal jurisdiction outside of Collin County.

Harris' investigation of the To Catch a Predator sting earned him and the TV station a DuPont-Columbia Award and a Peabody Award.

"What you saw on television wasn't the crime," Roach told Harris in 2007. "The crime had been committed long before the guys ever showed up at the house."

"TV Justice," WFAA-TV, Dallas | 2008 duPont-Columbia Award Winner from Alfred I. duPont Awards on Vimeo.

Hansen insisted on the recent Coptales and Cocktails podcast that even though the episode ended in a horrific manner, the raid on Conradt's home produced results. He said that a forensic investigation of Conradt's laptop found several images of child pornography as well as evidence that helped convict "Conradt's boss" of unrelated crimes.

He was most likely referring to former Rockwall County DA Galen Ray Sumrow, who supported his late colleague and openly criticized Dateline and the Murphy PD following Conradt's death. He called the sting operation and raid on Conradt's home a case of "reality television" superseding police procedure in a report by the Columbia Journalism Review in 2007. The following year, a Dallas judge removed Sumrow from his office and sentenced him to four years in prison for misappropriating just under $10,000 of county funds for personal travel expenses and computer equipment, according to the Herald Banner of Greenville.
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.