WILMINGTON, DEL. — Though Robert H. Richards IV was convicted of rape, the wealthy heir to the du Pont family fortune was spared prison by a Delaware court in 2009 because he would “not fare well” behind bars, according to court documents CNN obtained Tuesday.
Richards is a great-grandson of the chemical magnate Irenee du Pont.
He received an eight-year prison sentence in 2009 for raping his toddler daughter, but the sentencing order signed by a Delaware judge said “defendant will not fare well” in prison and the eight years were suspended.
Richards was placed on eight years’ probation and ordered to get treatment and register as a sex offender, the documents show. He was also prohibited from having contact with children under 16, including his own children.
The documents were never sealed, yet the ruling managed to go unnoticed until March, when Richards’ former wife, Tracy Richards, filed a lawsuit in Delaware Superior Court on behalf of their children alleging “personal injuries arising from the childhood sexual abuse.” The 11-page suit alleges that not only was their daughter abused, but Richards abused their son, too. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
While he was convicted of raping his daughter, Richards has never been charged with sexually molesting his son, according to Jason Miller, a spokesman for the Delaware attorney general’s office.
CNN tried repeatedly to reach Richards and Eugene Maurer, the attorney who represented him in 2009. Maurer is no longer representing Richards, his assistant told CNN on Wednesday. CNN asked if he had a comment; he has not offered one.
Attorney John C. Balaguer is representing Richards in the civil case, his assistant told CNN. Balaguer has not returned e-mails or voice mail messages CNN has left for him.
This week, after news of Richards’ 2009 case came to light, many took to Twitter to criticize the judge in the case, saying that it echoed a recent Texas case in which a wealthy teenager driving drunk killed four people but received no jail time. Ethan Couch was sentenced last year to 10 years’ probation.
A witness in Couch’s case claimed the teenager was a victim of “affluenza” — the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy.
Delaware’s Judicial Code of Conduct prohibits Judge Jan R. Jurden from discussing the 2009 ruling with reporters, court spokeswoman Amy Quinlan told CNN.
But at least one member of the Delaware legal community came to Jurden’s defense Tuesday.
“It’s wrong to attribute (the ‘defendant would not fare well’ comment) to Judge Jurden,” said Richard Kirk, a lawyer who is chairman of a Delaware State Bar Association committee that he says steps up to respond “when judges are criticized and unable to speak for themselves.”
Kirk says the argument that Richards would not do well in prison could have been the recommendation of probation or parole officers. However, he said, “common sense suggests that it came from defense counsel.”
As for the prosecutor’s side, the attorney general’s spokesman gave CNN a written statement.
“Cases of child sexual abuse are extremely complicated and difficult,” it read. The objective is to “secure justice in every case to the best of its ability given the unique facts and circumstances presented in each case — sometimes that results in a resolution that is less than what prosecutors would want,” the statement read.
“In this particular case, the facts and circumstances made it unlikely that a conviction could be secured at trial. …This resolution protected the victim and imposed conditions that would make it less likely the defendant could harm others.”