We all know those Dateline busts. (And, literally, we ALL know them - I was surprised during a recent voir dire to hear that nearly all of the panel members had seen this show.)
Well, this time, the alleged pedophile who was under investigation (he hadn't yet shown up for a meeting with a teen) had been a Kaufman County (Texas) District Attorney for over twenty years. (News stories vary on whether or not he was still a DA at the time of his death.) When police came to execute a search warrant at his home, he shot and killed himself.
It is shocking and sad and scary and just a little bizarre.
A few people had previously emailed me and asked my opinion of these Dateline episodes, and I've procrastinated on writing this post because I have so much to say about this subject.
(If you are one of the very few who are unfamiliar with these Dateline busts, here's the concept: An undercover officer poses as a young teenage girl and sets up a meeting for sexual purposes with an adult man. They instruct the man to a specific house, and usually to bring specific items such as condoms to prove his intent to actually engage in sex. When he shows up at the house, not only are the police there, so is NBC's Dateline host and crew. In the one episode I watched, they even had a girl's voice on the telephone with the man telling him to stay in the entrance lobby to the home and to take off his clothes.)
But this instance, involves a prosecutor, who (1) knows that this is a crime that is being taken very seriously across the country and (2) knows the harsh penalties that await him upon his arrest. And yet he can't stay away. What does this mean? Maybe it means that pedophile is a disease that crosses all socio-economic and education levels.
What does that mean from a criminal justice standpoint? Does it support the idea that pedophiles can't change, and support the need for sex offender registration laws and the no-sex-offender-school-zones that are gaining popularity?
Also, call me naive, but it really disturbs my personal view of men. Are all men really that into the idea of having sex with a 13-year-old? If not all, are most of them? Are there really men who weigh the options, "If I get caught, I'll kill myself, but it's worth it that I might get to have sex with a pre-pubescent teen." And, obviously, the Dateline show continues, as do the non-television busts across the country, with no end of willing participants in sight. On the Dateline show, many of the men even say, "Oh, I knew this was going to be Dateline!" But yet you were willing to risk it for the possibility of sex with a kid? It grosses me out.
(And, FYI, I think it will gross out most of the women on your jury. And none of the men will want to be the one to admit "Sounds all right to me." Which is why you don't have much of a chance with a jury on these cases. Unless you can get a jury without men or women on it.)
Finally, this story includes a very interesting quote from the mayor of Murphy, the town where the Dateline trap home was located:
Murphy Mayor Bret Bishop told the newspaper that he hopes Murphy won't be used again as a trap for child predators.
"We're going to do whatever we need to do to make sure this doesn't continue," he said. "I think it's a noble cause, but our police department is hired to serve and protect our citizens, and not to expose them to outside threats."
To me, this is incredibly interesting. These stings are being set up in nearly every state in the country. They use a substantial amount of taxpayer money to set these traps which often draw sex offenders into their towns or counties. And they take police officers off of visible street patrol and into police stations where they sit in front of computers.
Why aren't more citizens up in arms? Why aren't more citizens saying, "Quit bringing sex offenders into our town and use that money to get guns and drugs off our streets and out of our schools?"
Who do these protect? Real 13 year-old girls who have sexual conversations with grown men? Are there a lot of them? Are they really the most important group of citizens to protect?
I think that by labeling these men "pedophiles," police hope to confuse citizens into thinking these are the same men who grab little girls into their vans to kidnap and rape them. As sick as it is to want to have sex with a 13 year-old, the men on Dateline think they're showing up for consensual sex. (For what a 13 year-old's consent is worth.) My guess is that these men would very rarely, if ever, be the same men as those that would kidnap a child to sexually assault him or her. But yet, my guess is that the reason why citizens support these efforts is because they envision it making it their streets safe from the kidnapping type of pedophiles.
Instead, they should take internet safety precautions. Like telling their 13 year-olds not to set up sex dates with old men. How difficult is that?