Some criminal justice authorities in Delaware say they are surprised and puzzled after it was revealed that a Superior Court judge sentenced wealthy du Pont heir, Robert H. Richards IV, to probation after he confessed to raping his 3-year-old daughter, because she felt he "will not fare well" in prison.
According to a delawareonline report, Richards also allegedly sexually abused his infant son but authorities did not have enough evidence against him in that case.
Court records show that as part of a plea deal in the 2009 case, Richards confessed to abusing his daughter and Judge Jan Jurden recommended treatment over punishment for the hulking, physically healthy sexual offender who stands at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs between 250 and 276 pounds.
The du Pont family according to Forbes is:
One of the longest-running fortunes in American history belongs to the du Pont family, who rank eighth with a fortune of at least $15 billion. The du Ponts trace their ancestry to Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (d. 1817), a French Physiocrat, who survived the Revolutionary Terror by immigrating to America in 1800.
Pierre's son, Eleuthere Irenee du Pont, a chemist, built a gunpowder mill in Wilmington, Del., in 1802. Thus began E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, the $32 billion (market cap) chemicals and manufacturing firm that has introduced such innovations as nylon and Teflon.
The du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, is Richards' great-grandfather and his father is Robert H. Richards III, a retired partner in the Richards Layton & Finger law firm. He is reportedly unemployed but is supported by a trust fund. He owns a $1.8 million, 5,800-square-foot mansion in the tony Greenville area as well as another home in the exclusive North Shores neighborhood.
The case only recently became public after Richards' ex-wife, Tracy, filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the abuse of his daughter, according to the report.
In the lawsuit Richards' ex-wife "accuses him of admitting to sexually abusing his infant son between 2005 and 2007, the same period when he abused his daughter starting when she was 3," noted delawareonline.
"It's an extremely rare circumstance that prison serves the inmate well," Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O'Neill noted. "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."
He and his colleagues, explained O'Neill, have argued that a defendant was too sick or frail to go to prison, but he has never experienced a judge citing it as a "reason not to send someone to jail."
The Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission, a body of judges and leading officials in the criminal justice system, urges judges to be lenient in sentencing guidelines and recommends prison only for violent offenders including rapists.
Judge Jurden gave Richards, who has no criminal history, an eight-year prison term but suspended all of the time for probation.
"Defendant will not fare well in Level 5 setting," she noted in the final line of her sentencing order. Level 5 in Delaware's correctional system is prison.
Joseph S. Grubb, chief New Castle County prosecutor, said prosecutors don't normally consider how offenders fare in prison.
"It's not a concern for us," said Grubb said. "We try to do the right thing in each case. Absent that equation is the physical condition of the defendant."
Defense lawyer Michael W. Modica said he has argued that clients be spared prison because of medical or mental issues, but judges routinely reject those arguments. He explained that in one recent case he persuaded a prosecutor not to send a client who had cardiac bypass surgery while awaiting sentencing for a DUI and the judge sentenced the man to home confinement.
"I've never heard of the judge saying in general that he is not going to do well," said Modica. "Who thrives in jail?"
According to Defense lawyer Joseph A. Hurley, however, it makes sense to him that Judge Jurden would be concerned about Richards' time in prison.
"Sure, they have protective custody, but that is solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. We're not a third-world society," said Hurley.
"Sex offenders are the lowest of the low in prison," said Hurley. "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."