Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden has weighed in on the sentencing of a du Pont heir whose child rape conviction has garnered national attention.
After being convicted of fourth degree rape, Robert Richards IV was sentenced to eight years in prison, all of which was was suspended by Judge Jan Jurden and replaced by probation. That decision, and reports that Jurden’s sentencing decision was in part because Richards “will not fare well” in prison, have caused outrage that is drawing national attention to the sentence.
Critics have said Richards’ wealth and background played a role in what has been called a lenient sentence. Richards’ great-grandfather is Irenee du Pont and his father is Robert Richards III, a retired partner at the prominent Wilmington law firm Richards Layton & Finger.
Weakness of the case
On Wednesday, Delaware AG Beau Biden penned a letter to the editor of the Wilmington News Journal to weigh in on the issue. Biden pointed to the “weakness of the case” in his defense of the sentence recommended by Judge Jurden and the negotiated plea offered to Richards. He said that there is a great risk when taking such a case to trial.
“If the case proceeds to trial, and the jury returns a not guilty verdict, this means that the alleged perpetrator will walk away free, with no conditions attached. There will be no punishment. The defendant will not be required to register as a sex offender, will not be supervised by probation and parole, and will not receive sexual offense counseling.”
In his letter, Biden pointed out the difficulty in proving the crime of child sexual abuse in court. This was especially true in Richards’ case, where the victim was just 3-years-old at the time of the abuse. Biden said that when it is a child’s word against that of an adult, forcing a child to testify can cause additional trauma.
“Assuming the child is deemed competent, the child faces additional trauma by having to recount the abuse in front of the very person who committed it. Trials generally occur several months to a year after the event. All memories fade with time, a child’s in particular. For these reasons, a prosecutor’s decision about whether to take a child sexual abuse case to trial or to resolve it through a negotiated plea requires the striking of a difficult balance.”
Biden’s letter also provides some cover for Judge Jurden, saying she acted properly. Biden called Jurden “an outstanding jurist.” He wrote, “She carefully considers the salient factors in all criminal cases without any regard for wealth or social status.”
Biden wasn’t the only one who came to Jurden’s defense. Earlier this week, Wilmington defense attorney Gene Mauer, who defended Richards, appeared on the Headline News channel on cable to talk about the case. He said many national critics of Jurden’s decision are unaware of the information presented in the courtroom.
“People aren’t being real fair to Judge Jurden,” Mauer said in a live satellite interview from WHYY’s Wilmington studios. “Judge Jurden was presented with a tremendous amount of mitigating information about Mr. Richards and his background and his shortcomings and his problems. Although she gave him probation, she put a tremendous amount of conditions on him, which I would note have not been violated.”
Ex-wife files lawsuit
The Richards case came to light last month after his ex-wife filed a lawsuit against him. Tracy Richards is seeking monetary damages for personal injuries caused by Richards to their two children. Wilmington-based attorney Thomas Crumplar, who represents Tracy, said Richards admitted to abusing his son in addition to his daughter.
“Making matters worse, this self-admitted rapist and child abuser has not paid a single penny to these children for his crimes,” said Crumplar. “There is no provision whatsoever for them for their future after they turn 18.”
You can read Attorney General Beau Biden’s letter to the editor in its entirety below: