Judiciary

DuPont heir’s sentencing judge gets security detail after child rape case makes national news


Updated: A security detail has been assigned to the Delaware judge who sentenced a DuPont heir to probation for the rape of his daughter beginning when she was 3 years old.

Judge Jan Jurden was assigned the security detail after receiving threats, the Delaware News Journal reports. Jurden sentenced DuPont heir Robert Richards IV to probation in a 2009 plea deal, saying on a sentencing form that “he will not fare well” in prison. The sentence came to light in a suit filed this month by Richards’ ex-wife, Tracy, seeking damages for sexual abuse of the child.

The Delaware Attorney General’s office had originally charged Richards with two counts of second-degree rape, carrying a minimum prison term of 10 years for each count. He pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree rape, which punishes sexual penetration of a minor and carries no mandatory prison sentence.

At least three online petitions seek Jurden’s ouster. She was appointed to a 12-year term in 2001 and reappointed by the governor last year.

Now prosecutors and bar officials are speaking up on Jurden’s behalf and offering additional information about the case.

A letter to the editor says it is “speculative and misleading” to assume the comment about not faring well in prison, made on the “notes” section of a sentencing form, reflected Jurden’s own feelings. The letter by Richard Kirk, who chairs the Delaware State Bar Association Committee on Response to Public Comment, said judges typically use the notes section to list comments by prosecutors, defense counsel and probation officers. It is “highly likely” the comment was made by one of the participants at the hearing, Kirk said.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said in a letter to the Delaware News Journal that the prosecutor who offered a plea deal considered weaknesses in the case. “This was not a strong case, and a loss at trial was a distinct possibility,” he wrote.

Biden also praised Judge Jurden as “an oustanding jurist” who acted on the merits of Richards’ case. “She carefully considers the salient factors in all criminal cases without any regard for wealth or social status,” Biden wrote. She took into account mitigating factors, including the fact that the defendant had already entered treatment and accepted responsibility.

Prosecutors face a difficult decision when deciding whether to take a child sexual abuse case to trial or to resolve it through a negotiated plea, Biden said. “When a child reports sexual abuse, it is often that child’s word against the word of the alleged perpetrator,” Biden wrote. When an abuse report is made, an expert with the Children’s Advocacy Center questions the child. Often the child has made previous statement to family members, and often the statements differ in some respects, especially if the child is very young.

There is often no physical evidence, such as DNA or medical evidence of abuse, when the abuse occurred on a prior date, Biden said. When the child’s accounts conflicts with that of the perpetrator, the child will have to testify, if found competent, leading to additional trauma. In addition, a child’s memory may fade with time.

“For these reasons, a prosecutor’s decision about whether to take a child sexual abuse case to trial or to resolve it through a negotiated plea requires the striking of a difficult balance,” Biden wrote. “If the case proceeds to trial, and the jury returns a not guilty verdict, this means that the alleged perpetrator will walk away free, with no conditions attached.

“All of these considerations were in the mind of the prosecutor assigned to this case,” he said. “There was no medical or forensic evidence of any kind. The defendant did not make a statement to the police, although he made an ambiguous apology to the victim’s mother.”

Also defending Jurden is Bartholomew Dalton, former chief deputy attorney general and head of the sex crimes unit. He told the News Journal that it’s difficult to prove child-sex crimes involving relatives, and the cases often lead to plea bargains and probation. “She’s getting death threats because of her administration of justice when she was absolutely within sentencing guidelines and was following the recommendation of the the prosecutor,” he said. “It’s just incredibly unfair.”

Richards is supported by a trust fund. His father, Robert Richards III, is a retired partner in the Richards Layton & Finger law firm, the story says.

Deputy State Court Administrator Amy Arnott Quinlan tells the ABA Journal that the Judicial Code of Conduct bars the sentencing judge and the state courts from discussing the case, which is ongoing because of the probation sentence. “But as a general matter,” Quinlan said in a statement, “when entering a sentencing order, the judge must consider the charges before him or her, the [sentencing] guidelines, any mitigating or aggravating factors and recommendations from others such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Corrections and defense counsel. That procedure was followed in this case as well.”

Updated at 2 p.m. to include information from Biden’s letter to the newspaper. Updated at 3 p.m. to include information from Kirk’s letter. Updated on April 4 to include Quinlan statement.

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