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How did NBC get Rader tape?

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 14, 2007, at 8:24 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 1:54 p.m.

With convicted serial killer Dennis Rader back in the national spotlight tonight in a two-hour primetime special, officials in Wichita will be trying to figure out how a psychologist's interview with a client made its way into the public domain.

A transcript released Thursday of a hearing about the tape shows that prosecutors and defense lawyers were blind-sided this week by the revelation that the Rader interview would be the basis of a two-hour "Dateline NBC" segment scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

During the impromptu hearing, called late Wednesday by Sedgwick County Chief Judge Richard Ballinger, defense lawyer Steve Osburn said he knew the psychologist he had hired to evaluate Rader had asked to tape his session on June 27.

But he said the psychologist, Robert Mendoza of Cambridge, Mass., had never shown him the tape.

"I don't and never had it," he said when asked by Ballinger whether he had a copy.

Mendoza did not respond to several telephone and e-mail messages left at his office on Wednesday and Thursday.

Also surfacing Thursday was a copy of a release signed by Rader on the day of the interview. The release allows Mendoza and his company to have full use of any materials obtained during the evaluation.

"This release shall permit them to use those said materials or information for any lawful purpose and permit them to benefit financially from any such use."

The release was signed on the day of the interview, June 27, and notarized by a member of Osburn's office.

NBC released a partial transcript of the interview Thursday that hinted that Rader planned some murders that he was unable to carry out.

"Is it safe to say that there are at least a few lucky people out there?" Mendoza asked at one point.

"There's a lot of lucky people out there," Rader replied.

"Who you didn't kill, that you... "

"Yeah, didn't make it to the house, they come home or for some reason I didn't go. There's a lot of lucky people out there, yes."

Georgia Cole, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said she didn't know how NBC acquired the tape.

"Our office has never seen the tape, and we don't know who actually does have the tape," she said.

"What we know is that Dennis Rader made a tape in a room with the doctor. How it got from the doctor to 'Dateline' is not clear.

"Certainly we are looking into the whole situation, but our primary consideration is the sentencing that's happening next week."

Rader's sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder on June 27 — apparently just hours or minutes before the tape was made.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Gary Steed said he, too, had no idea how the tape ended up at NBC.

He said that before the interview, Mendoza came to the jail with a court order that laid out the ground rules for the psychological evaluation.

"We were aware that there was a camera there, and we questioned that and visited with the judge about it," he said.

Although dozens of psychological examinations are done in the jail each week, Steed said he'd never heard of one involving a video camera.

In the end, he said, District Judge Greg Waller's order stipulated that the interview would be taped and that no law enforcement officers would be present.

Although it looks on television as though the interview was conducted in the Sedgwick County Jail, Steed said, it actually took place in a holding cell in the Sedgwick County Courthouse.

Waller said Thursday that he could not comment on the tape because he is the judge who will be sentencing Rader next week.

Gary Hill, a news manager at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, Minn., and chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists' ethics committee, said he would not be surprised to learn that someone made money from the tape.

Although American news organizations generally won't pay for interviews, he said, it's not uncommon for them to pay for pictures and tapes.

He said a freelancer who risks his life in Iraq to get spectacular war footage could sell his tape to a television station without violating any ethics policy.

"There's a long history for paying for videotape," Hill said.

Hill said that until the full story behind the Rader tape is revealed, it will be difficult to say whether anyone involved cut ethical corners.

"It's tough to say whether or not there were any ethics compromises or breakdowns," he said. "We just don't know at this point."

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