The Sky Is Falling: The Media, The Justice System & Pedophiles
Robert H Richards IV, admitted child rapist.
Robert H. Richards IV, child rapist. Image from the Delaware Sex Offender Registry.

That man is heir to the DuPont Chemicals fortune. He’s also a convicted pedophile. He pleaded guilty to fourth-degree rape of his then three-year old daughter, which can carry up to a 15-year sentence, but was given probation instead of jail time by the judge on the criminal case, Delaware Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden.

When I read articles about the case, it made bile rise in my throat. The news stories said that a child rapist was released on probation after admitting to raping his daughter from the age of three to five, because the judge said he wouldn’t “fare well” in prison.

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Those headlines make me want to grab my pitchfork and go a-lynchin’, not only the pedophile, but the judge as well. How can that happen? It screams “money buys freedom” to me. In fact, the first draft of this post was called “Money Buys Freedom.” I wrote 316 words and most of them were “three-year old,” “pedophile” and “guilty.”

But, being contrary as I am, and also, a big fan of the truth, I decided to do some digging. The story didn’t make any sense to me. Why was a sentence from 2009 only coming to light now? Article after article said he wouldn’t “fare well” in quotes, but none of them showed the source for it and not one of them had a quote from Delaware Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden herself, not even a “no comment.”

I don’t know about you, but saying things doesn’t make them true in my world, not even on Fox (ahem) “News.” Saying “I’m a millionaire” didn’t just make me a millionaire. I would like to see an account balance proving it.

I wanted to know the exact words on the judge’s sentencing order, which strangely (or not so strangely), I could not find in any of the news stories except The Washington Post, which had the court documents for the civil complaint and the criminal sentence order in PDFs. In the criminal sentence order, the only mitigating circumstance mentioned is this:

Picture 2However, in the same document, in the “notes” section, is this:

Picture 3

What does that mean? Is that judge crazy? Why are there “mitigators” and “mitigating” headers? Is there a difference between the plural noun and the adjective? Why does it say “treatment need exceeds need for punishment” under “aggravating-mitigating” and  “defendant will not fare well in Level 5 setting” under “notes”?

In my fishy editorial way, I decided to figure out what that meant. It seems that I did more research than most of the journalists who covered this story put together. Some of the articles above had facts scattered throughout that didn’t tie at all back to the fear-mongering headlines, as if people would only read the headline and maybe the first few paragraphs, but not the rest, which is sadly probably true. I used those facts as a trail of breadcrumbs and researched them.

One of the few non-lynchin’ articles I found was written by Richard D. Kirk chair of the Delaware State Bar Association Committee on Response to Public Comment. The article in question is an editorial, but it sheds some light on the situation and I will now steal from it liberally. Unless otherwise linked, the quotes below are from Richard D. Kirk:

1. “The notation actually appears in a section of the sentencing form headed ‘Notes,’ where a judge normally lists comments made at the hearing by the prosecutors and defense counsel and the Probation and Parole officers.”

Ah, so it seems the judge probably didn’t even say Richards wouldn’t “fare well;” it’s likely one of the defense attorneys or someone else at the trial did and the judge wrote it in the “notes” section. So, the media is sensationalizing things again. Not only that, but they’re all quoting each other, so it’s a snowball effect of tabloid-style reporting, not real journalism.

By the way, the prosecution was the party that proposed a plea deal, which means that they agreed to everything in that sentencing order.

2. Richards was arrested in 2007, charged with child rape in 2008, and sentenced in 2009, but it only recently came to light because of a civil case in which Richards’ former wife is seeking monetary damages for personal injuries arising from childhood sexual abuse on behalf of his two children.

Picture 4Richards’ was alleged to have sexually abused his son during the same period, from age 19 months to age three and a half, but there was not enough evidence to charge him for it.

For whatever reason, from the time of Richards’ arrest in December 2007 to the criminal trial sentencing in February 2009 or since, no major media outlets picked up the story. It’s only now that there’s a civil case that the media is jumping on it. That sentencing order has been on public record for the taking since February 20, 2009 at 2:17 PM EST.

Picture 8

3. Richards was initially indicted on two counts of second-degree child rape, felonies that translate to a 10-year mandatory jail sentence per count.”  But, “just days before a scheduled trial, prosecutor Renee Hrivnak offered Richards a plea to a single count of fourth-degree rape, which carries no mandatory time, and he accepted, admitting in court that he abused his child. Fourth-degree rape is a Class C violent felony that by law can bring up to 15 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines suggest zero to 2½ years in prison.”

He was charged with two felonies that had mandatory prison sentences and pleaded down to one that had no minimum sentencing guidelines. “Although judges are not bound by a sentencing recommendation from the Attorney General’s office, it would have been unusual to depart from it.”

4. The case came before the judge as a plea deal. There was no trial; she did not hear evidence in the case. “The judge had before her not only the plea agreement and the Attorney General’s recommendation of probation, but also the confidential report from an extensive presentence investigation.”

A presentence investigation report is an “investigation into the history of person convicted of a crime before sentencing to determine if there are extenuating circumstances which should ameliorate the sentence or a history of criminal behavior to increase the harshness of the sentence.”

Unfortunately, the presentence investigation report is not public. The judge had way more information than anyone not involved in the case all these years later, including all of the sources listed above and even me.

5. Richards did not walk away free as a bird. There were very strict rules involved in his probation. “Those conditions included the completion of a rigorous residential and outpatient treatment program for sex offenders, close monitoring during the entire probation with zero tolerance for violations (which would reinstate the prison sentence), and no contact with children (including the defendant’s own children). This defendant has completed the sex offender program and has spent more than five years on intensively monitored probation under the supervision of Delaware’s highly trained Probation and Parole office with no violations of parole.”

Picture 7
Picture 6Before we move on, one more quote from Richard D. Kirk: “It was not an unusual sentence under the circumstances presented and would have been available to comparably situated defendants sentenced by this judge and other judges of the Superior Court.” Thank you, Mr. Kirk, for explaining all this legal stuff. It’s too bad nobody asked you.

Alright, so I no longer want to lynch the judge. Her sentence was within the norm. She most likely never even said the thing that she’s accused of saying all over the media, i.e. he wouldn’t “fare well.”

So, where does that leave us? Where do we point our pitchforks now?

It seems that instead of the judge, we should lynch the Attorney General’s Office for making such an awful plea agreement. The Delaware Attorney General in 2009 and now just so happens to be Beau Biden, otherwise known as the eldest son of the current Vice President of The United States of America.

I can find no information as to why the horrible plea deal happened. There might have been a valid reason or there might not. The only information I could find on prosecutor Renee Hrivnak was a Pinterest page with a bunch of baby stuff pinned to it that I can’t even be sure is hers. I couldn’t find much more information on Beau, besides a wiki page with this terrible picture where he is looking every bit a politician and not a champion of justice:

Beau Biden, terrible picture from the wiki linked above.
Beau Biden, terrible picture from the wiki linked above.

Maybe Ms. H. had a fight with her significant other the night before, got drunk, was hungover that morning and didn’t want to go to trial. Maybe Beau did. Maybe it’s a DuPont conspiracy to keep the sordid affair quiet since a trial would bring publicity. Maybe Beau was worried about re-election. Maybe they thought their chances at trial were not so good against Richards’ ridiculously high-priced lawyers. Maybe a lot of things, but we don’t know the reason for the plea deal.

Since I have no press credentials, I can’t just call them up for comment. “Hi, this is Goldfish from FOG. Renee, congratulations on what seems to be impending parenthood. Beau, I’d really recommend you change your Wikipedia picture. Any comment on the Richards case? No? Well, I’d like to ask you to think of your own children before you let another child rapist free. Hopefully, that will stop you from making such awful plea deals in the future. I’m glad I don’t live in Delaware.”

But, even the possibly pregnant prosecutor and the Vice Presidential offspring are not fully to blame here. Renee and Beau were working within a justice system where plea deals like that are “not unusual,” as Mr. Kirk said. The real culprits in this case are Robert H. Richards IV and the justice system of the United States.

Let’s get one thing straight here. As a victim of child sexual abuse, I am certainly not advocating for Richards. If anything, I am just as, if not more, disgusted by the probation-not-jail sentence as all the media outlets that jumped to conclusions. Robert H. Richards IV is a monster. He admitted to raping his daughter over a period of two years starting when she was three-years old. He most likely raped his son, too. He is guilty of child rape. He is a convicted pedophile. Instead of going away to prison, he was released on probation. He deserved more than he got.

That said, I place the blame for his lax punishment not on the judge or even just the Attorney General, but on the entire system and I have some questions for this so-called justice system of ours.

How can a monster who admitted to raping his child be allowed to plea down to probation? How can there be a statute of limitations on a crime like that? Why does a crime like rape, including the rape of children, go unpunished or under-punished so often? How can a rape charge have a sentencing guideline that suggest zero to 2½ years in prison? Why should the survival prognosis of a pedophile in prison ever be taken into account? What about the survival prognosis of the victims? What is it about our legal system that probation for raping one’s own child is “not unusual”? That should goddamn well be unusual.

What about Richards’ daughter? Where is her justice? She was raped by her father. It tore her family apart. Her mother is suing her father for money for what he did to her and her brother. Money won’t make it better. Even justice won’t make it better, but it would sure help.

To the media, why am I the only one who decided to figure out what that sentencing order actually meant? Please, do a modicum of digging before you blast fear-mongering headlines all over the internet. I’m not even a journalist and I did more research than you. This case is yet another straw man/Chicken Little example of downright bad and lazy journalism. National news services should have a responsibility to the public to get your facts straight, or even just get facts, before making assumptions.

Yes, there is certainly something wrong with this case, but it is not what you led us to believe. Richards did not get a lenient sentence because he is rich. He didn’t get probation because the judge thought he wouldn’t “fare well” in prison. He got probation because the system is broken. It does not advocate effectively on behalf of the victims. The punishment does not fit the crime. Something has got to change.