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FREDERICA (AP) - Police say the man who died Saturday in a mobile home fire in Frederica was a suspect in an alleged sexual assault that occurred there.
State police spokesman Corporal Jeffrey Whitmarsh says troopers were on their way to the mobile home to investigate the alleged assault when they got word it was on fire.
Whitmarsh says firefighters pulled 36-year-old Derek Hawkins out of the burning home and took him to Kent General Hospital, where he died.
Police got word of the assault allegation when the mother of the 16-year-old alleged victim called them. Whitmarsh says the girl told her mother Saturday morning that Hawkins had assaulted her within the past several weeks.
The mother called police, then called Hawkins to say police were on their way to his house. Shortly thereafter, the house caught on fire. The cause is under investigation.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
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On July 10, Esquire writer Luke Dittrich interviewed Dateline NBC's Chris Hansen. Here, you can read excerpts of that compelling -- and sometimes contentious -- conversation.
Quotes from this interview with Chris Hansen can be found in the Esquire feature Tonight on Dateline This Man Will Die. To see more content related to this story, please visit Esquire.com/Predator
Below are excerpts from an extended and sometimes contentious interview with Chris Hansen, by Esquire writer Luke Dittrich, on July 10, in which Hansen explains and defends his actions and those of his producers in the events leading to the suicide of Bill Conradt, Jr.
ESQ: You use the term “parallel investigations” to describe “To Catch a Predator’s” relationship with police. Could you expand a little bit on what you mean by parallel investigations?
Chris Hansen: You know, obviously, we want to have an independent investigation. We don’t want to be necessarily influenced by law enforcement, and law enforcement certainly doesn’t want to be a tool of the media. When we did the first “To Catch a Predator” investigation, law enforcement wasn’t involved at all. Until after the story aired. It was after the second investigation that Perverted Justice was approached by the Riverside County Sheriff’s department. And then Perverted Justice came to us and said, Look, they’re interested in doing an investigation parallel to one that we would do and you would do in Riverside, California. And we started to work on a way that we could do this and be independent of law enforcement but still have law enforcement able to do its investigation at the same time, and there would be a way that we would not only be able to do a story, expose this problem, educate people, raise awareness, create a dialogue, but at the same time, separate us from law enforcement.
You think the parallel-investigations model has worked well?
I think it has. I mean obviously it raises issues and we discuss these issues before going into every one of these investigations. And I think we’ve addressed them. And obviously there are people, you know, at the Poynter Institute and other places that think it’s too close. You know after the Fairfax County Virginia investigation, we interviewed law enforcement after the fact, and Perverted Justice provided transcripts after the fact. But it was difficult for them [the police] to make a case. Some cases were made after that investigation. But it was difficult. You know, in the model that we used in Riverside I think it served our viewers and it served public safety in the best way that we could. And I think we maintain our independence as journalists. You know we disclose all the methods in this story, in terms of paying Perverted Justice as consultants. In terms of Perverted Justice’s relationship to the law enforcement investigation. So you know, I think we satisfy all sides here.
In Murphy, who was it in the decoy house that would notify the police team outside that the suspect was on his way out?
It would typically be Frag of Perverted Justice. So in other words, he kind of...you know, Perverted Justice is kind of like that wall between us and law enforcement.
In Murphy, did Dateline or Perverted Justice give any instructions to the cops outside about how to conduct arrests?
No, we never gave instructions to the police. The way the police make their arrests is up to the police. In different places we’ve had varying access to that process. But that’s up to the police. You know typically, the police and prosecutors meet well beforehand and discuss how this is gonna work and the threshold of evidence needed to prosecute the cases in those individual locations. But I mean aside from, you know, saying hello in the beginning, I really don’t have contact with law enforcement in most cases throughout the entire investigation.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: In Murphy Texas, local prosecutor John Roach warned the police department not to get involved with Dateline or Perverted Justice.]
Did Perverted Justice give the cops arrest guidance?
No, no, no. I mean you know, I wasn’t present for every discussion that Perverted Justice had with the Murphy Police, but I can tell you that no one at Dateline told them how to make an arrest. I mean that’s a police issue. That’s not our issue. I mean just like the police don’t tell me how to do the interviews, you know, we don’t tell them how to do their business.
But didn’t some officers wear NBC-provided cameras?
You know, I know in some of the investigation cameras were put on police officers, yeah. As a production technique, yeah.
And who would put the cameras on the officers?
That would be our hidden-camera guys.
When did you begin to think that Bill Conradt might not show up at the decoy house?
It was probably nine or tenish, and this is after the point where we’re, because he provided a phone number for the chat, and because they had gone on each other’s buddy list or accepted list, instead of his one screen name it started to show up as Louis W. Conradt, and then they tracked that name down. They finally figured out it was an assistant district attorney. You know during the chat he had been back and forth about, you know, whether he was going to come over, whether he could come over, then he said his sister was going to come over for dinner and he couldn’t, and it became pretty clear that he wasn’t gonna show up. At least not on that night.
Do you recall when the initial invitation was extended to Bill Conradt to come to the decoy house?
I’d have to look back to the transcripts to give you an exact time but...as best as I can recall it was, again, that late afternoon time frame.
When did you first discuss the possibility of going to Terrell?
You know the police decided that they were going to get a warrant. And there was some concern on the part of the police that this guy might be destroying evidence in his house. Perverted Justice had detected that he had taken down part of his MySpace page. And when we learned that they were going to execute an arrest warrant and very possibly a search warrant, we decided that we would want to try to go out there and, you know, possibly try to get you know a comment from Mr. Conradt during this process.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A source inside the Murphy police maintains warrants were ordered only after the police learned of Dateline’s plan to stake out Conradt’s house.]
You mentioned the vanishing MySpace page, and that’s something you also mentioned during the episode and in your blog. Did you see it?
I’m pretty sure I did. You know there’s a lot of things going on all at the same time. You know, we’ve got guys coming into the house, I’m constantly reading transcripts. So my recollection is that at some point I went up there, and I heard the Perverted Justice people say, He’s deleted part of his MySpace page. Now I’m trying to remember if I actually saw the page, or whether I was looking at stuff that he, that Conradt, had allegedly sent. You know, some racy photos. And it may be that I just saw the after...you know, the page where stuff was stripped off.
So you may not have seen the alleged page?
The original MySpace page? I don’t recall as to whether I actually saw...there was a lot, there was a ton going on at the same time.... Here’s what I did see: Obviously I saw the chats, I saw the explicit material that he had apparently sent. I had gotten word from Perverted Justice that there was at one point a MySpace page up and then part of it was stripped away later in the evening.
And the information about this, the MySpace page and the missing information on it, was passed along to the Murphy Police Department?
That’s I believe yes. That Perverted Justice gave that information to us, and also gave it to the Murphy Police Department.
From how you’re describing it, it sounds like that would have had an effect on their decision to get the warrants.
Yeah. I mean, you know that whole step-by-step process is something you should talk to the police about, but yeah, I mean that was one of the things, based upon my interviews with the Murphy Police, that was one of the things that made them think that they should...that there was a chance that evidence was being destroyed and they should pursue a warrant.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Detective. Gator Weiss, who drafted the warrants, was never told of any MySpace account, and no mention of such an account appears in the warrants.]
The reason I’m dwelling on the MySpace page is I asked Perverted Justice about it and Xavier Von Erck [the founder of Perverted Justice] has sent me a link to what he says is the MySpace page in question.
And that link seems to indicate that it hasn’t been logged on to since August. Which was months before the operation.
I just wouldn’t know.
Okay. Is that surprising to you?
Well I just, you know, I don’t know how many MySpace pages he had, you know he was talking, he was communicating under a few different identities. So I would double-check to make sure you’re looking at the same MySpace page.
Right. That’s a question I’ve asked him for clarification. I’ve asked if there is some other MySpace page, and I just haven’t heard back from him now for more than a week.
I would ask Frag about that.
I’ve also contacted Frag, and Frag hasn’t been in touch with me at all. If you or somebody there could encourage Frag to talk to me, I’d appreciate it. He can choose not to talk, but it’s curious to me, and I’d like some explanation.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Frag never spoke to Esquire. And no evidence to back up the story of Bill Conradt’s alleged vanishing MySpace page was ever produced by NBC or Perverted Justice.]
When did you become aware the Murphy Police Department was pursuing warrants for Bill Conradt?
It was...it was Saturday night.
Can you be more specific?
Yeah, I’m guessing ten or eleven. I got an indication from Perverted Justice that the police were likely going to try to get warrants the next day.
And that indication came through Frag?
They would have told him that, yes, they were going to proceed to try to get those warrants?
How many times have you gone to a suspect’s residence?
Um, I think we’ve left the main location of the hidden-camera house on a couple different occasions, but mostly when somebody wanted to meet at a different location besides the house. So in other words, we’ve left to go to a park.... But yeah, this was a unique situation.
Was this the first time you actually went to a suspect’s residence?
I’m trying to think but I believe it is the first time we’ve actually gone near a person’s residence, yeah.
You didn’t discuss the possibility of going to Terrell until you learned that the police had gotten warrants?
That they were going to pursue warrants. We had actually that evening, that Saturday night, we had actually broken down, not broken down, but were wrapping things up because no one else was coming and the indication was Conradt wasn’t coming. And I had left to go back to the hotel and then got a phone call that there was a chance he was coming. So we stayed where we were, we didn’t go anywhere, and then we heard back from the Perverted Justice folks that it didn’t look like he was coming.
You were still at the decoy house when you learned they were going to pursue warrants?
I’m trying to remember whether I was still at the decoy house or whether it was, you know, I got a call from [Dateline producer] Lynn Keller later that evening, or we met later that evening and we got a pretty clear indication that they were going to try to get warrants. An arrest warrant and a search warrant.
Would you have gone to Terrell anyway?
I don’t know. I mean, certainly there’s the possibility that we might have gone on our own to try to talk to him. You know, I mean here we had a guy who was an assistant district attorney who was sworn to uphold the law, surfaced in a computer predator sex investigation. I think that would justify trying to talk to somebody. Certainly we would have gone to talk to him before we had done any story. That would have been our obligation as journalists. So would we have done it that day without the warrants? That’s hard to tell, because that’s not the way it happened. But I mean, would we have continued the investigation at the predator house and gone to try to talk to him on Monday? Possibly. But that’s not the way it played out. They were going to get a warrant. You know, a search warrant and an arrest warrant. And to us it was an opportunity to have a word with him. It’s really just that simple.
To your knowledge did anybody from Perverted Justice or Dateline tell anyone from the Murphy Police that you wanted them to get warrants?
Absolutely not. Somebody is saying that in Murphy, and whoever is saying it either wasn’t there, doesn’t know, or for some reason has an axe to grind. It just didn’t happen. I mean nobody from NBC did it, let’s put it that way.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is contrary to the account of Murphy Detective Sam Love, who was present throughout the investigation. Murphy Police Chief Billy Myrick declined repeated interview attempts.]
I’m saying anybody from NBC or Perverted Justice.
I have no knowledge of Perverted Justice doing that.
And, to your knowledge, on the basis of what info did they pursue warrants?
And again, this is a question for the police.
What did you hope was going to happen in Terrell?
Well, I don’t think I was hoping for anything.
What was the scenario you were planning for?
Well again, I’m not doing the planning. I’m reacting to what the police are doing. And what I know is that the police are going to execute a search warrant and an arrest warrant at the home of an assistant district attorney. And you know obviously that could provide an opportunity for me to ask him a couple questions about what had happened the night before. And you know that might have been the only time I would have had a chance to talk to him and get his side of it. Had the police not executed a search warrant, you know, again, would we have gone out there? I don’t know. Had the search warrant been executed at a different time? We would have gone out there at a different time, perhaps. Let’s put it this way, we were in no rush to do this or to put the story to bed, because the story wasn’t going to air for quite some time. We were going to come back to Murphy anyhow in three or four weeks to do the law enforcement interviews. So this notion that there was some rush for us to go talk to him or do anything is not -- there’s no basis in fact.
And what time did you arrive in Terrell?
It was in the morning. You know I’m guessing 8:30 or 9:00.
Did you go straight to his block?
We ultimately went to a gas station where the police were staging. And we did go near the neighborhood just to see what it looked like. But in other words we didn’t have cameras openly staked out in front of his house prior to the police executing the search warrant.
You didn’t have cameras trained on the house, but you went to Terrell with several crews?
Well, yeah, I had several crews with me, of course. I mean, again, at this point I’m trying to be prepared for however this plays out. I know they’re going to give warrants, but does it happen quickly or does it take half the day? Do they decide to do something different or hold off? You know, I don’t know how it’s going to play out. So I was just trying to be prepared for whatever happened.
Was one of the things you were preparing for the possibility of Bill Conradt leaving his house and going to get a cup of coffee somewhere?
Well, I mean, you know, if that had happened and that wouldn’t have interfered with getting the search warrant or maybe if they weren’t going to get the search warrant, you know that’s something I may have considered, but that’s not what was going on. So that was not our effort. In other words, if you’re asking me would we have tried to interview Bill Conradt prior to the search warrant being executed had we had the opportunity, no, that’s not what we were doing out there. We were out there to capture the execution of the search warrant, and if the opportunity provided itself, to try to get a word with Bill Conradt.
How would you have gotten that word with Bill Conradt?
Well, I usually, the way it happens is that as somebody’s being taken away you try to talk to him.
When you got there did you see a newspaper outside his door?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The raw footage shot that day makes it clear that one of the main reasons police believed Bill Conradt was in fact at home was because of what the police themselves described as “surveillance” Dateline had done: Chris Hansen reported to the police that when he had first arrived a newspaper was outside Conradt’s door, and that the newspaper later disappeared.]
I believe when we came, we went by just to take a look at the location, and I believe the first time there was a newspaper there, yeah.
Was there constantly somebody from Dateline outside of Conradt’s house?
There wasn’t constantly. Because we didn’t know how this was going to unfold and we didn’t want to obviously, you know, let folks know that we were in the area. I mean there was going to be a police action there, and obviously we didn’t want to telegraph that.
Because police described Dateline’s activity as “surveillance.”
If you’re asking if were we doing surveillance for the police, no. If you’re asking as investigative reporters we were in the area checking it out and made an observation like I’ve made thousands of times throughout my career in different investigative stories, yes, we made that observation. What did that observation indicate? It indicated that William Conradt was home.
The term “surveillance” indicates...
Let me tell you, and I know what people are saying down there. What happened was this. We go to the area. We checked it out, without making a big stink in the neighborhood… But nobody was parked out in front of his home. It wasn’t this tight twenty-four-hour surveillance… You know, are people suggesting we should have stayed a hundred miles away and not covered the story?
I’m just trying...
Are people suggesting that it’s not newsworthy that an assistant district attorney was allegedly soliciting sex from an underage kid online? Is that not a story? Well, tell me. Do you think that’s not a story? I mean I’ve also heard that I ordered the police to get a warrant, and that’s just not true. It hasn’t happened. The people who are saying that weren’t there. I was there.
What I do know is the police chief, the Murphy chief, who was there, said, almost verbatim, “The newspaper was there, and then they looked up the next minute, and it wasn’t.” Implying that somebody was there the whole time.
Did the police have somebody there the whole time? Maybe that’s the case. I mean that’s entirely possible. I don’t know that because I didn’t have privy to every aspect of the police investigation. Yeah, obviously we’re hanging out at the same gas station, and I’m overhearing what they’re saying, but I’m not telling them what to do, they’re not telling us what to do. I mean we’re there to cover this event, that arose out of this story we were doing. I mean that’s it.
Do you think Bill Conradt knew you were there?
I don’t know how he would. I mean, he had no indication that the folks he was chatting with were from Perverted Justice. Of course I can’t tell you for sure because I can’t get inside his mind and I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. But I can see no way that he would know that he had surfaced in a Dateline investigation. I can see no way that he would have seen any TV crews or any presence of journalists prior to the police knocking on his door or as they were walking up to his door.
Are you aware that the local 911 received several suspicious-persons calls made by people in the neighborhood after they spotted your vans outside?
I am not.
Do you recall Frag making the suggestion to call Bill Conradt to see if he was home?
I don’t. I mean it seemed like it would be the common-sense thing to do. What I recall is that the sergeant who made the knock was a guy who knew Bill Conradt personally, and they felt that he would come to the door and they would have a chat and they would resolve this. They would do the search warrant, they would do the arrest warrant, and, you know, the process would start.
How did Terrell PD get Bill Conradt’s phone number?
Everybody was standing. It’s right in...you can dial 411 and get it. It was... Everybody was standing there and it was actually right there on my notepad because I had looked it up before in case we would call and [the police] basically took it right off my notepad because we’re all standing in the same group there. I could have said, Oh, it’s here, but I’m not gonna show you, you’re gonna have to call 411. But it seemed kind of silly at the time. And that was not done because we were in any rush to go anywhere or do anything.
Collin County DA has since thrown out all 22 cases, and even said the arrests may have been illegal, since the police did no investigation themselves but were merely there “like potted plants, to make the scenery.”
That’s just not true. They had done this two other times. We had no influence on how they were going to make the arrests. That’s a law-enforcement function. You know. And to my knowledge, Perverted Justice wasn’t telling them how to make arrests. I mean they put together their arrest team, they were making the decisions, and we were doing the same for our part of the investigation.
What are the policies of NBC news regarding cameramen filming on private property?
Um, typically, and I don’t have the NBC policy book right in front of me. But it depends on the situation and on the state and what the laws are. Whether it’s a hidden camera, whether it’s a regular camera. But our crews filmed this from the street. There was another cameraman, Mitchell, who was kind of in the side yard, you know, on the border of the property as the SWAT team was going in. But he did not go in through the door with them. He did not have a view of them actually going in the door through the back. Nor did anybody else for that matter.
Are you saying that apart from Mitchell going into the side yard the NBC camera crews stayed off Bill Conradt’s property?
As best as I can remember, I don’t recall any of our crews going on his property. We were on the street.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Raw footage of the scene obtained by Esquire clearly shows an NBC cameraman well on Bill Conradt’s property long prior to the SWAT team’s arrival.]
The judge who signed the arrest warrant stated he would not have done so if he were informed Dateline would be present during the arrest attempt, and he implicates your presence in Conradt’s suicide.
Well, I don’t think our presence, you know, contributed to his suicide. I mean, if police are going to arrest a public figure, it would not be reasonable to see how that word would leak out, and how that’s going to make the paper, gonna make the evening news, and so forth. I mean, did Bill Conradt not want to face the consequences of what he had been doing online? Apparently not, you know. But, it would be unreasonable to believe that this could happen and not make the news. It’s just like when a newscaster gets arrested for soliciting somebody underage online. It’s happened across the country. It’s gonna make news.
Did you hear the gunshot?
I did not.
Can you describe the aftermath?
It was clear that something unexpected had happened, because it was just taking longer than...you know I’ve been on a ton of raids in my twenty-four years as a reporter dating back to Lansing and Tampa and Detroit, whether they were drug raids or organized crime raids. Typically at some point, people start filing out. People take off helmets and bullet-proof vests. Somebody comes out and tell you what happened. Minutes were going by, more time than I thought it would take to resolve this situation. And I started to think maybe they’re just talking to him. You know maybe as a courtesy they’re gonna bring him out a back door. You know, there was no actual plan looking back. And maybe they thought they didn’t want to embarrass him. They’re gonna take him out a back way. Maybe he wasn’t home after all. But sadly, it turned out what happened was he had shot himself in the head. I’m not justifying what he did, but that’s awful. Nobody can feel good about that
Is it true Dateline was gone by the time the Texas Rangers showed up?
The Texas Rangers, I believe, got there when we were still there.
But they didn’t conduct any interviews with you or any of the crew or Perverted Justice?
They did not. Well, I should say the crew. Nobody from Perverted Justice was out there.
Well, Frag was out there.
Frag was not out there. Frag was back at the house.
Unless...I’m almost positive that Frag was back at the house.
Well, we’ll have to check that...
You should double-check that because I was there and I don’t recall Frag being there.
You don’t recall anyone from Perverted Justice being there?
Not in Terrell.
Not in Terrell?
Lynn and I were there. Mitchell was there. I’m pretty positive that everybody with Perverted Justice was back at the house.
[In an angry tone] So any notion that Perverted Justice was on the scene calling the shots is just not, is not...
That’s not the notion... just trying to get clear who was on the scene.
Yeah, I’m, I’m pretty positive that Frag was back at the house.
What about the guy on the scene wearing blue jeans, a long-sleeved olive-green button-down shirt, and a Boston Red Sox cap and dark glasses?
Well, now you’ve got me thinking that maybe Frag was out there. But I’m just...
Cause it looked...
Well the cap fits Frag to a T, but I’m just trying to think...well, no, I want to make sure I’m right on this, because I just chewed you out for saying he was out there. And now that you mention that. Let me call Lynn real quick. Because I don’t wanna. I want to make sure... I mean honest to God, I was so revved up, you know, talking to Lynn, and figuring out what we were gonna do. And I... Wait. Let me. I may be wrong on this. Hang on one second. I’m gonna put you on hold I’m gonna call Lynn, I’m gonna call you right back.
[Returns to line]
I’m sorry, he was there.
He was there?
Yeah. He was there. He wasn’t riding with us, and that’s why I tended to forget and I think he was spending most of the time with the police. Um, but yeah, absolutely he was there.
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Registered Sex Offenders Must Carry Special Driver's License By Sept. 1
NASHVILLE -- The state of Tennessee is set to issue a new kind of driver's license that will have a special marking signifying that the carrier is a sex offender.
Some lawmakers said the idea is so simple that they don't know why they came up with the idea earlier. Police said the new license will go a long way toward protecting children.
State Rep. Debra Maggart (Email) said she is troubled by the fact that a sex offender can anonymously roam the streets, especially after police pulled over a sex offender last December.
"He had four or five young boys in the car with him that he had lured out of a sleepover," Maggart said.
That is why Maggart said she backed the bill that recently became law.
On Sept. 1, every registered sex offender in the state must carry the special driver's license.
The Department of Safety said it has yet to design the new license, but Maggart said it will look like any other Tennessee driver's license and only law enforcement officials will be able to see the notification.
Lawmakers said they believe the special ID will alert police when an offender violates the law like going to a public park or getting too close to a school.
"When an officer pulls you over or stops you and looks at your ID -- when he calls that in to dispatch, all he is told is if you have an outstanding warrant or not. They don't share your rap sheet," Maggart said.
Under the new law, if a police officer pulls over a sexual offender, the new license will notify them to look for things they usually would not during a routine traffic stop.
"This helps them do their job and helps protect our children in our state," Maggart said.
Any sex offenders who don't qualify for a Tennessee driver's license will be required to get a state ID that will have the sex offender marking on it.