Prosecutor Who Is Dateline Target Commits Suicide

Ok, here is kind of a crazy story.

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?

29 comments:

  1. Diana Barry BlytheNovember 09, 2006 11:03 PM

    Sad story, but don't you think you're being just a little biased in taking his side b/c the man was a prosecutor?

    Excusing his conduct as some kind of disease that attacked him yet not excusing these hypotheitcal 13 year olds who obviously have problems as well seems a bit one-sided.

    I wouldn't excuse either one, but the responisibilty is far more on the side of the adult than on that of the kid.

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  2. Ever told a 13 year old girl to NOT do something?

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  3. Diana Barry BlytheNovember 09, 2006 11:04 PM

    typos --- hypothetical
    responsibility

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  4. My job is to excuse people's behavior, to some extent. (And, yes, I have worked on this type of case.) If anything, I think more harshly of a prosecutor who should know better and who should have the resources to get help, if that's what he needed.

    As far as the kids, I don't place any responsibility on them. 13 year olds shouldn't be propositioned by adults, no matter what. But I just wonder if they are such a small class of our society that needs such a large amount of protection in this one small area.

    It'd be like if the police focused their attention to protecting red cars driven by women from being hit by drunk driving men in black vans.

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  5. Probably a good thing - I'm certainly not saying women in red cars deserve to be hit by drunk drivers - but is there a more effective use of our money to protect more people from more read (and not hypothetical) crimes?

    And, as for telling a 13 year old what to do - I'm not a parent of a teenager, so I recognize it is probably easier said than done. But if I had a teenager, they wouldn't have an email account that I didn't have the password to (and check). They wouldn't have a computer in the bedroom, it'd be in a public room (like the kitchen) where I can keep an eye on their activity. So, yes, you maybe have to go a step beyond telling your kid what to do, but I don't think it's impossible to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior.

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  6. I don't have a kid either, but I'll say two things in response to the "monitoring" comment:

    1. I know a helluva lot more about computers than my mother. Granted, I used to be a computer consultant (and I'm not 13), but I imagine that the average 13 year old today will know more about computers than their parents. So they could easily set up different e-mail accounts that you don't know about.

    2. There are public terminals in the library. Friends have computers. Maybe schools too. If a smart teen wants to get online without you being able to monitor her, I'm pretty sure she'll find a way.

    Now, there could still be a better use of resources than to set up these stings, and I'm not saying that parents don't need to be more involved. But I'd be very skeptical of any parent who thought they could monitor their child's Internet usage to any great extent.

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  7. Real 13 year-old girls who have sexual conversations with grown men? Are there a lot of them?

    You've got to wonder...If you set up a meet with a 13-year old girl you met online, what are the chances she's really a police department? 50 percent? 80 percent? 100 percent?

    Do any of these guys confess to having met up with other girls who weren't simulated by cops? Or were they all perverts who were just thrilled to have finally found a little girl who wanted what they wanted?

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  8. While complete monitoring of a child's internet usage may be difficult to impossible, is it *really* that hard to make sure your 13 year old knows now to meet old men on the internet for sex?

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  9. I'm not exactly tickled about these stings but I do think they serve a purpose. Also, being the mother of a ten year old girl, I have never confused "this type" of pedophile with the "yank them off the street" kind.

    However, the type of men that are involved in these stings are the kind of men that will try to seduce young girls if given the opportunity. I do like the idea that we are closing the gap and allowing less and less opportunity, if that makes sense. These men in this day and age that do get caught realize there is AT LEAST a 50/50 chance it is a cop and they have such a compulsion that they take that risk.

    If they sat accross the dinner table with the daughter of a friend, do you think they would take less of a risk? Anyway, that's just my two cents.

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  10. I think the problem with these stings is the false sense of security it gives parents. I have two friends who were sexually molested while young girls. One was raped by her neighbor and the other one was raped by a family friend. These weren't strangers who were chatting with them online, they were men they saw frequently and even trusted to have in their home. These stings may draw people's attention away from the larger problem of acquaintance assault. But then again, maybe that neighbor or "friend" might be nabbed in one them. I think people are tired of horrific abuse stories and want something done.

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  11. I think it's worth noting that the Dateline stings - and others like them - are not actually sponsored by the police departments but by the independent group Perverted Justice. The people at Perverted Justice are the ones who initiate the contact and pretend to be thirteen year olds and lure the men to the house. The police are only brought in on the final day when the men are going to show up at the house. Dateline actually hires an adult female who looks young to play the part of the underaged girl. I only point this out because this is probably why you don't hear a great deal about the tax dollars that go into it (or claims of entrapment by defendants). There are relatively few tax dollars spent, and they aren't on the people on the computers.

    Also, Perverted Justice tends to target a general area with a certain mile radius, rather than just a sweep of a state or the country. So while I understand the Mayor's concern, it's not usually that they're bringing in people from surrounding states - or even from long distances - but rather, they are bringing in guys from a twenty or fifty mile radius, which realistically could target the underaged girls in the city used to stage the stings. I don't know if this is true of the Dateline stuff, but it's usually true of Perverted Justice generally.

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  12. I would be interested in seeing a transcript from one of these stings. I find it difficult to believe that there are so many perverts out there wanting to have sex with a 13 year old girl. I've always thought there was some element of entrapment in these stings. Don't get me wrong, I think that the men that are caught deserve a very harsh punishment, but doesnt this whole concept seem wrong?

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  13. OLS - While the Dateline stings are not initiated by the local police, the local police do assist in setting up the time, place, etc. and other general cooperation with Perverted Justice.

    Further, very similar stings ARE being conducted by the police departments in nearly every state across the country. While their arrests are usually men from the same state or region, they don't discourage men who are willing to travel from another state from coming for a meeting either.

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  14. Re: Entrapment, I can't share actual transcripts but I can summarize from the many that I've read. (If you want to read real transcripts, I suggest you become a PD, where you'll get to read many. And generally our clients don't deny any of it.)

    In ALL of the transcripts I've read, the target (client) initiates the conversation. The police officer 13 year-old is in a public chat room (usually a teen themed room) and has her age in her profile, when the client initiates a private conversation.

    In ALL of the transcripts I've read, the police officer NEVER initiates a sexual topic. After they introduce themselves by age, sex, location, the police officer might ask something like, "Why r u in a teen room?" (and get an answer like "young girls are sexy) or something like, "What do u like to do 4 fun? play sports?" (and get an answer like "sex is a fun sport. u?")

    I have never seen one where the police officer steers the conversation twd sex. In fact, often it appears that the police officer will even take a few tries at steering the conversation away from sex. And many of their responses are things like "I never did that before" or "I never saw one of those before" or "Eeew, what is that?"

    As far as setting up the meet, it often involves the "teen" saying something like, "My mom is so stupid. So glad they're going away next week." And that's all it takes.

    The police officers who conduct these are well trained and they know that all of the transcripts would be introduced at trial. They let the men look as dirty as possible. I don't really think there's much room for an entrapment defense, at least in all of the cases I've seen.

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  15. Well, I'm an 1) adult male, who was once a 2) teenager, and who now has 3) two young pre-teen daughters.

    I didn't even consider 13-year-olds when I was 15. Really, the norm is that men are attracted to women, not girls.

    It may be a disease, but I don't think these men are necessarily wired wrong from birth. There are so many cases of abused boys who grow up to be adult pedophiles or pederasts that I tend to think that that must be the most common cause.

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  16. I guess some people still do find underage hookups online without Dateline intervening. But man, it's a weird thing, this setting people up to be busted on television for this particular offense. It seems really different to me than the expose stories of old, where they'd bust the convenience store owners for selling cigarettes to 13 year old kids wearing hidden cameras.

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  17. Anybody have an opinion on teenage boys having sex with attractive female teachers.....like what recenlty happened in Colorado?

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  18. Transcripts of perverted justice conversation (some of them, not all -- generally the ones which resulted in convictions already) are available on the Perverted Justice website at www.perverted-justice.com (try it without the dash if it doesn't work). I second Blonde's contentions that the decoys do not start the conversations or the "sex talk." Also the decoys are typically generally id'd as underage by their nicks (sometimes including a birth year) or the chat room they are in, so I'd like to think that if any decoy posing as an apparently 13YO contacted most men (like my husband) and initiated a sexual conversation, the response would immediately be, "I like women, not girls," and the conversation would end. Consequently, I find it hard to believe a man who wouldn't otherwise be interest in sex with a 13YO could be entrapped.

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  19. There is a very interesting book by a young girl who was one of the first victims to prosecute an older man who had initiated a relationship with her online for the purposes of luring her for sex. I can't remember the books name, but the girl was from a nice suburb in Connecticut and her parents were divorced. Her mother had a demanding job that required her to be away from home alot, and subsequently the girl was in a lot of after school activities. She had good grades, was very busy, etc. Yet she still had time alone at night to be online and essentially she was lonely. The older guy didn't start out talking about sex right away, he just talked to her about her day and things she was into, and she enjoyed having someone to talk to. Yes, later the guy got creepy and wanted to meet with her, but by that time he had developed trust with her. So it isn't just about telling your kids to avoid men who talk about sex.

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  20. Good posting. I'm very ambivalent about these stings, although obviously they uncover people willing to do serious crimes against children.

    I would say no, most men are not interested in sex with 13 year olds, but with the pervasive quantity and vile quality of the pornography we allow, it should hardly surprise that many men are willing to do things that maybe they would otherwise control without the incessant presence of easily available porn. Ever wonder why it's the biggest internet industry by far?

    Nevertheless most men abhor this as much as normal women do; but it's no secret that men are very susceptible to sexual temptations, even highly inappropriate ones. And it's a universal male problem that afflicts Catholic priests, protestant ministers, Jewish Rabbis, secular men, professional men, working-class men, without distinction. The social and moral and religious norms that kept these temptations more or less in check have been eroding quickly in the last 40 years or so, and as a consequence these stories are more frequent.

    The law cannot hope to do more than put a finger in the dike. Without some type of social constraint, be it religious, moral, ethical, or otherwise, this behavior will probably continue and expand.

    Watch your daughters closely. Teach your sons to shun porn and respect women. Basic stuff, but sadly not practiced enough.

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  21. Wow...

    My undergrad criminal law students asked me if the Dateline bust were entrapment. I wonder if anyone has tried to suppress the transcripts as fruits of entrapment?

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  22. This case happens to be in my geographical area, so it got lots of air time on the local TV stations. I think that it is really sick. I would argue that this does make the case for registration of sex offenders, because this guy really did know what he was doing was wrong and what the penalties were (and maybe knowing in full what the penalties were prompted his decision not to face them). Yet, he went ahead and did something that he knew was wrong on so many levels. So, there is something massively wrong with him.

    And it isn't just men. Every few weeks you hear about some female school teacher having sex with her students. That argues that pedophilia is an abberation across gender.

    Also, for the record, most men find this behavior abhorrent, and are definitely not attracted to young girls. This guy is just a pervert.

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  23. Overall the concept of proactive law enforcement may be a good one, but not without its issues. Chatting about sex is not a crime, even with a minor. It is a crime to ask for it. Finding the difference is sometimes difficult. Detectives aren't in the business of wasting time online either, they want to find out if the man (most of the time) is out looking for real sex with a minor. I can see some men just interested in fantasy chat, and then being seduced into a meeting. Thats entrapment, and again hard to prove. If a person falls into that trap, it will be living hell for him even if found not guilty.

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  24. ALL men would like to have sex with a "willing" thirteen year old (although most restrain themselves). How do you think Calvin Klein sells so many clothes?
    The recent apparent increase in pedophilia of this type is simply the result of the internet making it a million times easier (and more enticing) than it used to be. Sadly, this kind of activity (our daughters getting raped) is part of the price we must pay for the benefits of the internet, such as erm . . . erm . . . let's see now . . . myspace? wikipedia? napster?

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  25. These stings point to the fact that online life is rather anonymous and encourages, to some extent, behavior that people would not engage in if they lost their anonymity.

    Yes, some people are just pedophiles, but I would wonder how many of the men who show up to have sex with an underage girl after an online chat would approach the same underage girl on the street/school/church/synagogue and attempt to have sex with her ("consensual" or not).

    I've watched a few of these programs and the guys _clearly_ intended to engage in illegal activities with the girls... The moment you show up, with condoms in pocket.... you go to jail as far as I am concerned, because at that point it becomes real.

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  26. The age group of 13 or 14 seems to be a popular target by men on these shows. I wonder it that is a result of these men having had their first sexual experience in that age range. I believe it is possible that if a boy experiences sex at that young age it can sort of "stunt" the growth of their sexual desires going forward into manhood. Just a theory.

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  27. Technically, interest in early teens is referred to hebephilia, not pedophilia. There is some debate in the pysch field about whether interest in 13 to 14 y.o. is a disease on the same level as pedophilia (where pedophilia is defined as restricted to interest in younger children who do not have sexually developed bodies). I think either is gross, but whatever.

    Also, I'm bothered that you seem to indicate in your blog entry that the "snatchers" are somehow worse than the ones who communicate with an underage victim first. If you spend any time researching pedophilic tendenies, then you will see that the vast majority of pedophiles groom (manipulate by forming a trusting relationship) before starting the abuse. It is the nice looking Ted-Bundy-type of pyschopath that should worry us far more than the threat from a kid snatcher which is actually quite rare.

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  28. i can personally attest to some of the questions this brings up, as I was charged with one of these crimes at the age of 22. At the time I really had no intention of looking for a 14 year old in my case (they use 13 year olds now due to it being a 2nd degree felony in TX). At the time I was in a local Dallas chat room, the supposed victim actually messaged me, but I turned it sexual. The victim most definitely was very willing to participate. For me I really had no idea whom this person was, it could be a 14 year old girl or a 50 year old man. I ran with my curiosity and paid dearly for the price. The issue I have with these law's are not that they are illegal. I do feel that children should be protected and I made a poor choice. But these being a Felony, many of these cases dump the defendants in prison for long terms. I will say I should have known better, but is going to prison for a victim less crime really justified? As for do any real kids meet for sex over the internet? Well I have met many others convicted of the same offense, and none I have ever talked to admitted to an actually meeting with anyone underage.

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  29. Anonymous (November 16, 2006 2:07 PM) said:

    "Chatting about sex is not a crime, even with a minor. It is a crime to ask for it....I can see some men just interested in fantasy chat, and then being seduced into a meeting. Thats entrapment, and again hard to prove."

    In Texas, neither of these considerations applies.

    Pertinent parts of the Texas Penal Code:


    § 33.021. ONLINE SOLICITATION OF A MINOR.


    (a) In this section:

    (1) "Minor" means:

    (A) an individual who represents himself or herself to be younger than 17 years of age; or

    (B) an individual whom the actor believes to be younger than 17 years of age.

    (2) "Sexual contact," "sexual intercourse," and "deviate sexual intercourse" have the meanings assigned by Section 21.01.

    (3) "Sexually explicit" means any communication, language, or material, including a photographic or video image, that relates to or describes sexual conduct, as defined by Section 43.25.

    (b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, the person, over the Internet or by electronic mail
    or a commercial online service, intentionally:

    (1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor; or

    (2) distributes sexually explicit material to a minor.


    (c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet or by electronic mail or a commercial online service,
    knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the
    actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

    (d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c)
    that:

    (1) the meeting did not occur;

    (2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur;

    or

    (3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense.


    (e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that at the time conduct described by Subsection (b) or (c) was
    committed:

    (1) the actor was married to the minor; or

    (2) the actor was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct.

    (f) An offense under Subsection (b) is a state jail felony,
    and an offense under Subsection (c) is a felony of the third degree, except that an offense under Subsection (b) or (c) is a felony of the second degree if the minor is younger than 14 years of age or is an individual whom the actor believes to be younger than 14 years of age.

    (g) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.



    § 12.35. STATE JAIL FELONY PUNISHMENT.


    (a) Except as provided by Subsection (c), an individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony shall be punished by confinement in a state jail for any term of not more than two years or less than 180 days.

    (b) In addition to confinement, an individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony may be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000.

    (c) An individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony shall be punished for a third degree felony if it is shown on the trial of the offense that...the individual has previously been finally convicted of any felony:

    (A) listed in Section 3g(a)(1), Article 42.12, Code of Criminal Procedure; or

    (B) for which the judgment contains an affirmative finding under Section 3g(a)(2), Article 42.12, Code of Criminal Procedure.

    (That refers to a laundry list of serious felonies. See Code of Criminal Procedure and Texas Controlled Substances Act for more information.)



    § 12.34. THIRD DEGREE FELONY PUNISHMENT.


    (a) An individual adjudged guilty of a felony of the third degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the institutional division for any term of not more than 10 years or less than 2 years.

    (b) In addition to imprisonment, an individual adjudged guilty of a felony of the third degree may be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000.



    § 12.33. SECOND DEGREE FELONY PUNISHMENT.


    (a) An individual adjudged guilty of a felony of the second degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the institutional division for any term of not more than 20 years or less than 2 years.

    (b) In addition to imprisonment, an individual adjudged guilty of a felony of the second degree may be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000.

    (All emphases added.)

    So as you can see, you can actually do some pretty hard time in Texas for just "talking dirty" to a minor/impersonator online, or acting out an online fantasy with a minor/impersonator.

    Remember also that over the Internet, you don't really who - or where - somebody is. If you're not in Texas, I'm not entirely sure you couldn't be prosecuted in Texas, under Texas law, if the minor/impersonator was - even unbeknownst to you - in Texas. I suggest you check with a competent defense lawyer on that.

    Cheers,

    Jeff Deutsch

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