Skip to main content

Why is heir not in jail for child rape?

By Mel Robbins
updated 5:49 AM EDT, Sun April 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mel Robbins: Du Pont heir Robert Richards did no jail time in rape of his toddler daughter
  • Sentencing judge said, in part, he "would not fare well" in prison. This is not justice
  • Robbins: Wealth shouldn't shield him from justice
  • Robbins: Civil jury should award big damages strip him of wealth that helped him avoid jail

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and founder of inspire52.com, providing daily "good news" stories and viral videos. She hosts "The Mel Robbins Show" Sundays from 7-9pm on WSB 95.5 in Atlanta and News 96.5 in Orlando. In 2014, she was named Outstanding News Talk Radio Host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- In 2009, du Pont heir Robert H. Richards IV, 47, was convicted of raping his 3-year-old daughter and served no jail time because, a judge said, he would "not fare well" in prison.

You are only just hearing about this travesty thanks to a civil suit filed recently by Richards' ex-wife, Tracy Richards, alleging that he also sexually abused his 19-month-old son during the same period.

How does this happen? Lady Justice wears a blindfold that's supposed to represent objectivity. Unfortunately, it seems to blind her in some cases, especially when a defendant is wealthy and connected. And Richards is wealthy and connected -- he's the heir to not one, but two fortunes provided to him by his predecessors.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

In 2008, Richards was indicted on two counts of second-degree child rape for sexually penetrating his daughter repeatedly from 2005 to 2007. Those two counts would have carried mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years each. He was released on $60,000 bail.

Richards is unemployed, but with a trust fund and apparently had plenty of cash to hire one of the state's top law firms. His lawyers pushed until Delaware prosecutors offered a deal allowing him the fourth-degree rape plea -- normally reserved for statutory rape cases -- and Richards admitted the assault.

At the sentencing, Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden ordered Richards to attend a sex offender rehabilitation program and pay a whopping $4,395 to the Delaware Violent Crimes Compensation Board. (That'll teach him!) She then sentenced him to eight years in prison, but suspended the prison time and put him on probation instead, writing: "Defendant will not fare well in Level 5 setting."

Translation for the rest of the world: The rich rapist will "fare well" living as a free man in a house where he raped his own daughter.

A few points here:

1. The purpose of prison is twofold -- to keep criminals segregated from their victims and the rest of society, to punish them by denying them the freedoms that law-abiding citizens enjoy and to rehabilitate them. Prisons are loaded with pedophile rapists who are incarcerated regardless of their ability to deal with the prison environment. If Richards was a relative of the Dipshots, instead of the du Ponts he'd probably be behind bars now.

What letters say about Jerry Sandusky
'Girl' used to find pedophiles online
Three girls saved from traffickers

2. And if the rapist doesn't "fare well" in prison, how is he a good fit for society? As far as I'm concerned, a sex offender who rapes his own child will never "fare well" in society. You can't cure sex offenders of their sexual urges, you can only teach them to try to control them. In the meantime, we have a duty to keep rapists like Richards contained in a location where they have no contact or opportunity to hurt another child for a good long time -- and that place is in jail.

3. The Delaware justice system appears to have also lost sight of Richards' victim -- his own kid! Think she'll "fare well" knowing her rapist was sent home to his mansion and never properly punished?

The sentence was outrageous, but blaming the judge is too easy. The truth is the entire system is to blame. People with zero resources to properly defend themselves are funneled into the prison system, while rich rapists like Richards can buy an excellent criminal defense team and secure a deal no public defender could ever dream of getting.

But Tracy Richards has not given up. She filed a suit last month seeking compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of her children. In addition to detailing the abuse of his daughter, the lawsuit also alleges that while Roberts was on probation, he admitted to the sexual abuse of his toddler son. It cites probation reports from two different probation officers notifying the Courts in 2010 and 2012 about that suspected abuse.

According to the lawsuit, which is supported by paperwork from the earlier criminal case, Richards went into his daughter's room while she slept and penetrated her with his fingers while he masturbated. The suit also alleges that Richards then told the girl "to keep what he had done to her a secret." The girl eventually told her grandmother, who informed Tracy Richards. The girl then recounted the abuse to her pediatrician and New Castle County police, who arrested him.

Given all this background, it may seem like a slam dunk of a civil suit, but societal factors -- the advantages of money-- can play a large role in the justice system. You can be certain that if Richards lives off a trust, it's one that du Pont family attorneys have painstakingly set up, and it's probably going to be remarkably hard to pierce.

Likely knowing she's in for a fight, Tracy Richards has hired law firm Jacobs & Crumplar, attorneys more than capable of going after people who think they are untouchable. This is the firm that won victims $77.4 million in a settlement with the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington over sex abuse by a priest.

I've got my fingers crossed that a civil jury will award jaw-dropping damages in this case and strip Richards of the trust fund and the wealthy status that allowed him to avoid jail -- where he really belongs.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT