Criminal Justice

DuPont heir got probation for child rape; judge said he wouldn't fare well in prison

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Corrected and updated: A lawsuit filed against DuPont heir Robert Richards IV is calling attention to the light sentence he received in 2009 for the rape of his daughter beginning when she was 3 years old.

Judge Jan Jurden of Delaware sentenced Richards to probation as part of a plea deal in the case, reasoning that “he will not fare well” in prison, the Delaware News Journal reported. The judge also ordered Richards to participate in a sex-offender treatment program.

The sentence came to light in a suit filed this month by Richards’ ex-wife, Tracy, seeking damages for sexual abuse of the child.

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.

Richards’ lawyer, Eugene Maurer Jr., told the Delaware News Journal that the deal was “more than reasonable, an enlightened plea offer.” Richards pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree rape, which penalizes sexual penetration of a minor and carries no mandatory prison sentence. The state Attorney General’s office originally charged Richards with two counts of second-degree rape of a child, which each carry a mandatory 10-year prison sentence.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden defended the state’s handling of the case in a letter to the Delaware News Journal, the newspaper reported on Thursday. “This was not a strong case, and a loss at trial was a distinct possibility,” Biden wrote. Biden said there was no medical or forensic evidence and the only eyewitness was the 4-year-old victim.

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. In the Richards case, she took into account mitigating factors, including the fact that the defendant had already entered treatment and accepted responsibility.

Richards is supported by a trust fund, the story says. He owns a spacious mansion in Greenville and another home in an exclusive neighborhood.

Jurden did not respond to the News Journal’s request for comment. Several lawyers contacted by the newspaper criticized the sentence. But lawyer Joseph Hurley thought the sentence was justified. “Sex offenders are the lowest of the low in prison,” he said. “He’s a rich, white boy who is a wuss and a child perv. The prison can’t protect them, and Jan Jurden knows that reality. She is right on.”

According to the News Journal, Richards weighs between 250 to 276 pounds, is 6 feet 4 inches tall and cites no physical illnesses.

In an op-ed, Delaware Online says the case “raises disturbing questions about our justice system.” Richards “is an heir to a fortune. Did that buy him privileges? His family is well-connected. Did that keep him out of jail? Let’s hope not. But the people who run the legal system should recognize that people are asking those questions and wondering.”

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.

Story corrected at 2:20 p.m. to state that the suit was filed by Richards’ ex-wife. Updated on April 3 to add subsequent coverage. Updated on April 4 to include statement by Quinlan.

Subsequent coverage: “DuPont heir’s sentencing judge gets security detail; defendant got probation for child rape”

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