A mind-boggling report in a Delaware newspaper recently revealed that Robert H. Richards IV, heir to the DuPont chemical fortune, pleaded guilty in 2009 to raping his then-3-year-old daughter, but got off without a lick of jail time. Instead, Judge Jan Jurden sentenced him to eight years probation.
Richards’ crime—fourth-degree rape—is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years behind bars; he was initially sentenced to eight years. But on the advice of the state Attorney General’s office, the sentence was suspended and Richards—unemployed and living on a trust fund—walked away with what amounts to a gentle slap on the wrist: A fine of $4,395; sex offender rehabilitation; and a ban on being near any children, including his own.
Judge Jurden’s rationale for the suspended sentence—that Richards’ “treatment need exceeds need for punishment”—can only be described as flimsy. As a report in Delaware’s The News Journal points out, considerations about a convicted felon’s health are most often made in the case of drug addicts, not child rapists.
So how did Richards get off scot-free?
The judge noted in her sentencing order that Richards “will not fare well” in prison. Though this wasn’t the official reason for his light sentence, Richards’ wealth, status and comfortable lifestyle may have played a role in the sentencing process.
Judge Jurden’s decision is part of a disturbing trend: Jared Remy, for example, the son of former Boston Red Sox player Jerry Remy, faced 19 court battles on charges ranging from stalking to assault, mostly against women he was dating. He never once went to prison, often landing suspended sentences, until he was arrested for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, last year.
You have to wonder: Given that more than 60 percent of those behind bars are low-income ethnic minorities, what sorts of crimes would wealthy white people have to commit to be sentenced in the same ways?
The 2009 court documents revealing Richards’ sentence resurfaced because his ex-wife filed a lawsuit this month alleging that Richards had also molested the couple’s young son. Let’s hope at least the civil justice system gets it right.
UPDATE: You can sign a petition urging the Superior Court of Delaware to fire Judge Jurden here.
Photo of Robert H. Richards IV via the Delaware Sex Offender Central Registry.
Stephanie Hallett is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She can be found on Twitter @stephhallett.