Yesterday afternoon, I started seeing a number of posts about how “affluenza” had struck again. Outraged howls went up into the atmosphere because a One-percenter had managed to get around the justice system and it was only because of his wealth and family connections. Woe is me. Woe is me.
So, being curious, I went looking for the background of the case in point. After reading the case history, I’ll admit the sentence outrages me. But not necessarily for the same reason as all those crying affluenza!. But before I get into that, let’s do a bit of background.
“Affluenza” as a defense was coined in a trial where a young man drove drunk and killed several others. His defense attorney argued, successfully, that because his parents had never taught him there were consequences to his actions, he shouldn’t be sent to prison. He had been too protected, too rich and too special, basically. The trial is still generating outrage in the community — as it should.
In this latest case, well, there’s more at play here than the headlines let on.
To start, the case ended in a guilty plea almost six years ago. A Du Pont family heir stood charged wit sexually abusing his then three year old daughter. As anyone with an ounce of sense and lots of money would do, he hired a dream team of lawyers and plead not guilty. That all changed when he failed a polygraph test. After the test he pleaded guilty and the judge imposed sentence.
And this is where the outrage comes from. The Delaware judge ruled Robert H. Richards IV “would not fare well” in prison. So, instead of sending the admitted child abuser to the pen, he sentenced Richards to eight years probation, the terms of which included reporting to his probation officer only once a month. The reasoning for this sentence? I’m guessing it’s because he told the investigators he was ill and needed medical treatment. At least I hope it’s because of that and not because of who he is and who his family happens to be.
However, I’m not naive and I know the latter probably had as much to do with it as anything else. If not more. That’s especially true since the case apparently didn’t come to the public’s attention at the time of the investigation or plea. In fact, the only reason it is making the news now is because the mother of the child and Richards’ ex-wife has now, almost six years later, filed suit against him, asking for damages for raping not only the girl but their son as well.
Now, this is one of those situations where I have to look at not only what the father did — which was horrible and he should be rotting in prison as far as I’m concerned — but I also have to look at what the mother is doing now. The cynic in me wants to know why she’s waited six years to file this civil suit against him for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress with regard to the children. It’s not like she just now learned about the assault of her children or the sentence her ex-husband received.
My sympathy is with the children. The girl, now 12 or so, may not be named in the papers, etc., but there is more than enough information there for any of her friends and schoolmates to know what happened. It’s the same with her younger brother. You see, it is now alleged that he was also abused when he was less than two years old. According to the mother’s court filings, the father admitted it during another lie detector test in 2010.
Now, either this is one of the dumbest men in the country — Why else take a lie detector test after you’ve already failed it? — or one of the most unlucky to have had two false test results. I’m laying my bets on dumb.
But there comes a point where, as a mother, you’d better have a damned good reason for taking public a matter that your pubescent daughter doesn’t need all her friends and enemies at school knowing about. Right now, while her actions are no where near as horrendous as her ex-husband’s, they also have the very real potential of causing her children harm. I hope more than money is motivating her.
As for the question of if the sentence was an example of “affluenza” at work or not? I don’t know. My first impulse is to say it probably was. But that is the knee-jerk reaction everyone is having. We don’t know, at least I haven’t seen, the complete transcript of the plea hearing or the supporting documents that were presented. It could be that Richards did have a medical condition the judge felt would be better treated outside rather than in prison. Even so, I’d have had him wearing an ankle monitor, in mandatory counseling and weekly, if not daily, check-ins with his probation officer.
But seeing the knee-jerk reaction of the media, the use of “affluenza” and “One-Percenter” in the headlines — all buzzwords meant to inflame the emotions of the readers instead of just reporting the news — bothered me. It also bothered me that no one seems to be questioning why the mother has waited this long to file her civil suit. Most of all, I’m worried about how this sort of media attention will impact the kids.
My heart goes out to them. The dad, well, he needs to have a bit of old-fashioned justice meted out on him and mom needs to get a clue if her sole motivation is money.