Criminal Justice

Judge who sentenced DuPont heir to probation expressed concern about no jail time, transcript shows

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A Delaware judge who sentenced a DuPont heir to probation for the rape of his young daughter didn’t say “he will not fare well in prison” during the hearing, though the comment was in the notes section of her sentencing order.

But defense lawyer Eugene Maurer did make the argument during the hearing, the Delaware Grapevine reports, citing the hearing transcript. The Delaware News Journal also has a story and the transcript.

Judge Jan Jurden sentenced DuPont heir Robert Richards IV to probation and sex-offender treatment in 2009 for raping his daughter beginning when she was 3 years old. Jurden also ordered Richards to register as a sex offender. The sentence was part of a plea deal.

The case was publicized after Richards’ ex-wife filed suit seeking damages for sexual abuse of the child. The controversy resulted in death threats against the judge, who was assigned a security detail. Lawyers who supported the judge noted child sex-abuse cases can be difficult to prove and have suggested the criticism surrounding the sentence has been unfair.

Richard Kirk, who chairs the Delaware State Bar Association Committee on Response to Public Comment, has said it is “speculative and misleading” to assume the comment in the notes section about not faring well in prison reflected Jurden’s own feelings.

The transcript suggests the comment reflected Maurer’s argument for avoiding prison. He said Richards needed treatment both for psychiatric and sex-offender issues. “I hope with all those factors the court would conclude that he is not a suitable candidate for incarceration. I would not think he would fare well there. In fact, I know he would not fare well there,” Maurer said. “He has a supportive family, and I would ask the court to consider all those factors in deciding what the appropriate sentence should be.”

Jurden expressed some reluctance about the sentence, the transcript indicates. “I have concerns about this,” Jurden told Richards at the hearing, “because arguably you should be at Level Five [prison] for what you did, and I hope you understand the gravity of what you did.”

Richards answered that he does understand.

“But I think that you have significant treatment needs that have to be addressed, and you have very strong family support,” Jurden said. “So, unlike many other unfortunate people who come before me, you are lucky in that regard, and I hope you appreciate that.”

Prosecutor Renee Hrivnak said at the hearing that the state would usually seek jail time, but she believed a sex-offender treatment program in Massachusetts was a viable alternative to jail. “The first option that the state would present is that this jail time will be suspended for completion of that program, followed by a lengthy period of probation,” Hrivnak said. “If the court is not inclined to send him to the Massachusetts program, then the state would be asking for some period of jail that the court would feel would be appropriate.”

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden has said the plea deal considered weaknesses in the case. There was no medical or forensic evidence in the case and the only eyewitness was the 4-year-old victim. “This was not a strong case, and a loss at trial was a distinct possibility,” Biden wrote to the Delaware News Journal.

Richards never received treatment in the Massachusetts program, however, Maurer says. He told the Delaware News Journal there were issues about transferring Richards’ probation to Massachusetts and the program did not have the required security for an offender such as Richards. Richards instead got care in Delaware under the supervision of probation officers, the newspaper says.

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