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WILMINGTON, Del. — Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden's decision to order probation instead of prison for a du Pont family heir who raped his young daughter has led to threats against her and calls for her removal from the bench.

But allies in the legal community have rallied to her defense.

Much of the outrage over Jurden's 2009 sentencing of Robert H. Richards IV for fourth-degree rape was over her notation that he would not "fare well'' in prison, a mitigating factor that she identified in her order.

Delaware prosecutors and defense attorneys have said it is unusual for a judge to list someone's fitness for prison as a mitigator in a sentencing order, even though it is often argued that a frail or sickly defendant might get abused or suffer unduly in prison.

Richards is the great-grandson of du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont and the son of Robert H. Richards III, a retired partner in the Richards Layton & Finger law firm.

His case gained publicity last month when his ex-wife, Tracy, filed a lawsuit seeking damages for the rape of his daughter when she was three years old, and also claimed he sexually abused his toddler son.

Police investigated claims about the son in 2010, but they said no charges were filed. Authorities said they will investigate the allegations in the lawsuit.

The controversy surrounding Jurden erupted after a Sunday News Journal article about her sentence. She sentenced Richards to eight years in prison, but suspended the time behind bars for probation. Among other provisions, she ordered him to get sex offender's evaluation and treatment, and not to have contact with children under 16.

Attorney General Beau Biden's office, which had originally charged him with two counts of second-degree rape punishable by a minimum prison term of 20 years, had given Richards the plea deal to fourth-degree rape and recommended probation.

The story gained international attention, leading to at least three online petitions for Jurden's ouster.

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