An heir to the Du Pont fortune, convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter six years ago, only faces probation and will likely never see prison time. A Delaware Superior Court judge said that Robert H. Richards IV, the great grandson of Du Pont patriarch IrÃ©nÃ©e du Pont, would benefit more from treatment than prison.
Richards is also the scion of another prominent Delaware family, the Richards (of the corporate law firm Richards Layton & Finger). His father, Robert Richards III, was a partner in the prestigious firm until 2008. Court records list the younger Richards as currently unemployed, but he owns an $1.8 million estate in the opulent North Shores area near Rehoboth Beach.
Judge Jan Jurden sentenced Richards to 8 years in prison, but the sentence was suspended in favor of Level II probation, which requires monthly visits with a case officer. Jurden justified her sentencing, saying that Richards would “not fare well in prison.” The court also ordered Richards to pay $4,395 to the Delaware Violent Crimes Compensation Board.
Richards' slap on the wrist became public after his ex-wife filed a subsequent lawsuit, which charges that he penetrated his daughter, a toddler, with his fingers while masturbating. The suit also claims that Richards abused their son. It seeks damages for assault, negligence, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress on Richards' two children.
It's unclear why news of the case against Richards came only only after the lawsuit filing. However, Delaware's News Journal newspaper claims the case was never "disclosed publicly" by Delaware authorities.
Richards was originally charged with two counts of second-degree child rape and was released on bail while awaiting charges. Second-degree rape carries a 10-year mandatory sentence per count. But Richards, who hired a top law firm to defend him, was offered a plea deal of just one fourth-degree count of rape, which carries no mandatory prison sentence.
Not all members of Delaware's legal community are buying Judge Jurden's excuse that Richards would not fare well if incarcerated, noting that child molesters don't generally fare well in the prison system anyway. They further suggest that those who are targeted by other inmates can be put in protective custody.
"It's an extremely rare circumstance that prison serves the inmate well," said Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O'Neill, whose office represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer. "Prison is to punish, to segregate the offender from society, and the notion that prison serves people well hasn't proven to be true in most circumstances."
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys that have worked with Jurden note that she's known for her tough sentencing, so this light sentence comes as a surprise to them.
Child protection advocates are also outraged. Kendall Marlowe, the executive director of the National Association for Counsel for Children, told the News Journal newspaper that sex offenders are jailed for the safety of the children they threaten.
"Child protection laws are there to safeguard children, and adults who knowingly harm children should be punished," she said. "Our prisons should be more rehabilitative environments, but the prison system's inadequacies are not a justification for letting a child molester off the hook."
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