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 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT