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Why is heir not in jail for child rape?

By Mel Robbins
April 6, 2014 -- Updated 0949 GMT (1749 HKT)
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.

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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.

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