Another Child Failed By The Justice System

News broke this week about the case of du Pont heir Robert Richards, who was sentenced in 2008 to probation by a Delaware judge.  Did he get caught with marijuana, embezzle some corporate funds, or get caught driving while drunk?  No, he sexually assaulted his little girl.  This 6 foot 4, 270 pound man raped his daughter sometime before her 5th birthday.  She disclosed the abuse to her grandmother in late 2007 and Richards was charged and prepared for a June 2008 trial.  Before trial, however, the prosecutor inexplicably agreed to reduce the charges to those that carry no mandatory minimum and only a 15-year maximum sentence.  In a turn not just inexplicable but downright outrageous, the prosecutor actually recommended Richards be sentenced to probation.  Having investigated and prosecuted hundreds and hundreds of crimes against children myself, I understand that sometimes the child is unable to testify (and/or the defendant’s confession/evidence against him is thrown out on legal grounds) and this can lead to a necessary reduction in charges to induce a guilty plea.  Some jail time is better than none, after all.  Here, however, there was at least a 15-year sentence possible on the charge the defendant admitted to.  There is simply no excuse for not recommending the maximum available.  

The judge’s decision is outside the control of the prosecutor, obviously, but the recommendation is critical.  A good prosecutor makes persuasive arguments at sentencing and convinces the judge, especially in crimes against children, that harsh sentences are necessary for punishment, retribution, and the protection of society.  These are the goals of the US criminal justice system.  It might not be perfect, but it can work. 

This case represents the utter failure of the criminal justice system for this child.  It appears that investigators provided the tools the prosecutor needed in this case.  The defendant admitted sexually assaulting the child and a trial was set, all in a fairly short time period.  Mysteriously, a plea to a lesser crime was offered and accepted, but the system could still have achieved a passably just outcome.  Then, in 2009, the prosecutor recommended probation and the judge agreed.  Epic fail.

 It appears to me the prosecutor completely abdicated her duty to justice.  How on earth is probation justifiable in child rape?  So, let me get this straight:  rich defendant rapes his little girl and the prosecutor, the sword arm of justice, agrees he should be free to loll about his million dollar estate while his child spends a lifetime suffering for what he did?  Where is the justice in that?

The judge, supposedly a tough sentencer, seems to have abandoned her role as arbiter of how best to mete out punishment and protect society.  A child rapist won’t “fare well” in prison, she says, so let’s let him see a shrink and cavort with his trust fund money while a little girl grows up and tries to recover despite knowing her rapist went unpunished.  In her sentencing order, the judge said “treatment needs exceed need for punishment.” For a child rapist? So, the judge is saying her primary concern in this case is the rapist’s mental well-being?  Seriously?  This sentence shows very clearly that this judge cares little, if at all, about victims of rape.  Where in the order does she note how society will be protected from this rapist in the future, or how this sentence is just punishment for the heinous crime committed? Instead, she expresses concern with how the rich rapist will fare in prison and orders him to forego pornography in his mansion.  How is this judge, with such incredibly poor judgment, allowed to don a black robe and take the bench?  Lady Justice, blindfolded with her sword and scales, must surely weep at this case.

You might ask yourself why we are just now hearing about a sentencing that took place in 2009.  It is a mystery why this atrocious outcome got no notice when it happened.  It has come to light now because the child’s mother is suing the rapist on the child’s behalf, now seeking herself the justice that was denied her in the criminal case.  I hope she gets every penny he has.  It will still be small comfort. 

 The judge and the Attorney General’s office have some serious explaining to do.  Will anyone demand accountability?  If no one pays attention, nothing changes.  How sad and tragic.

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