The blogosphere is afire with outrage: A rich do-nothing given probation for raping his three-year-old daughter! Judge says he “wouldn’t fare well in prison”!  What injustice!

Hold on a sec. The case of Robert Richards IV, the aforementioned do-nothing, is a miscarriage of justice, but not for the reasons bloggers, and some journalists, are screaming about. 

First, just to clarify, the crime took place in 2005, and sentencing happened in 2009.  We’re learning about it now because Richards’s ex-wife has filed a civil suit based on the rape. This didn’t just happen yesterday.

Second, while it is unusual (to say the least) that Judge Jan Jurden took Richards’s welfare in prison into account, the real injustice is that by the time Richards was sentenced, he was only convicted of fourth-degree rape, which only calls for a prison term of zero to 2 ½ years. In Delaware, fourth degree rape  is usually applied in cases of “statutory rape,” i.e., sexual intercourse with a minor. Technically, the criminal statute does include non-consensual sex, but normally, that calls for a higher charge.

Originally, Richards was charged with two counts of second-degree rape, each of which would have carried a mandatory ten years in prison. But a few days before the trial, in June 2008, Richards got a plea deal from the Delaware state prosecutor: admit to the abuse, and go down to fourth degree instead of second. Prosecutor Renee Hrivnak recommended probation, not jail time—surely part of the plea deal as well.

So the real question is: Why was such a generous plea deal offered, in a case as hideous as this one? 

There are many possibilities, with varying degrees of believability. 

Most likely, and unfortunately for all of us sickened by this crime and its sentence, is that there wasn’t a strong enough likelihood of conviction. Media reports from the last 24 hours only repeat the accusation made by a five-year-old girl, fully four years after the rape occurred—together with an admission from Richards, who said, “It was an accident and he would never do it again.”  What does he mean by “accident” here?  We don’t know.

Moreover, by 2008, there probably wasn’t any physical evidence remaining from the 2005 crime.  And weren’t we just told, in the context of the accusations against Woody Allen, that child testimony is often unreliable? 

It’s very possible that Richards’s lawyers played a high-stakes game of chicken, and the Delaware prosecutors offered this deal because the slimebag might’ve gotten away with it otherwise. That’s not quite justice, but it’s not “affluenza”—a rich dude getting ‘treatment’ instead of punishment—either. The current internet mob’s cry is that a rich guy just got away with rape. Actually, a rich guy got away with rape in the (probable) absence of fully convincing evidence two years after the crime.

It’s also possible that the Delaware state prosecutors, or the judge, were in cahoots with the rich-as-royals du Pont clan, of which Richards was a scion. It is Delaware, after all; a small state with a handful of very wealthy families, of whom the du Ponts are the wealthiest. Could someone have said something at a country club to someone in the prosecutor’s office? It’s certainly plausible, especially to fans of House of Cards—but of course there’s no evidence anywhere of wrongdoing. Not at this time, anyway. 

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Photo: Delaware Sex Offender Central Registry