Brother of murder victim Ellen Robb to meet with parole chairman

Ellen and Rafael Robb in 1991. The former Penn professor was sentenced to five to 10 years for manslaughter. He is to be set free Jan. 28 after serving six years.
Ellen and Rafael Robb in 1991. The former Penn professor was sentenced to five to 10 years for manslaughter. He is to be set free Jan. 28 after serving six years. (Photo Loft Inc.)
Posted: January 21, 2013

The brother of a woman bludgeoned to death by her husband, former University of Pennsylvania professor Rafael Robb, learned Friday that he would get an audience with the state parole chairman in an eleventh-hour bid to keep Robb from being released from prison.

Gary Gregory, brother of Ellen Robb, slain in December 2006 in her Upper Merion home, got the call before a news conference at which state legislators and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman accused the parole board of violating state law by denying the family the right to testify.

Board of Probation and Parole spokesman Leo Dunn said it was unusual for a board chairman to meet with a victim's family. The meeting is no guarantee that Robb's parole - scheduled for Jan. 28 - would be reconsidered.

The board issued a statement after the news conference saying it typically delegates in-person victim testimony to hearing examiners, as outlined in the Parole Code. According to the statement, the Office of the Victim Advocate handles notifying victims before offenders' parole interviews. Efforts to reach the office for comment were unsuccessful.

Gregory, however, said the family had been told it could communicate with the board only in writing.

"The parole board did not follow the law," Ferman said at Friday's news briefing, attended by Gregory and State Reps. Mike Vereb and Todd Stephens (both R., Montgomery).

Vereb, speaking after the news conference, said he and his staff discovered Thursday a provision in the law giving victims or their families the right to appear before the board. The law also states that victims or their families must get at least 90 days' notice prior to an offender's parole. Ellen Robb's family got much less notice, he said.

Gov. Corbett's office weighed in Friday on behalf of the victim's family, Vereb said.

Gregory expressed gratitude for the support his family received and said he hoped that the board might be persuaded to "do the right thing."

"The thought that this guy is going to walk after six years and go back to the house he committed the murder in, it is criminal. If you had told me he was going to serve eight to 10, I don't think I'd be running around screaming from the rooftops," Gregory said.

Gregory is to meet with board Chairman Michael C. Potteiger early next week, Vereb said.

Rafael Robb, an internationally recognized authority on economic game theory, was 56 when he beat Ellen Robb, 49, to death not long after she told him she wanted a divorce.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., a Montgomery County commissioner who was then district attorney, said recently that the crime was a "rage killing," not premeditated, and warranted a manslaughter conviction rather than murder. Ellen Robb's family has said five to 10 years was not sufficient.

Gregory said Rafael Robb has never taken responsibility for the crime and, from jail, fought child-support payments for the couple's daughter, Olivia, who was 13 at the time of the killing. She is now a college student.

Eight months before an offender's minimum parole date, Dunn said, the office begins preparing a file on an offender. Victims and their families - as well as law enforcement officials involved with the case - are encouraged to write to the Office of the Victim Advocate regarding the offender.

Gregory said his family wrote such letters the first time Robb came up for parole. He was told by the Office of the Victim Advocate that a second round of letters would not be necessary when Robb came up for parole again.

"The feedback we got clearly was, 'You're fine,' " he said. He had asked to meet with the board in person, he said, but had been rejected.

"The feedback has been that you can provide your comments solely in writing," Gregory said, "or you could dictate to them."

In October 2011, the board denied Robb's application for parole because Robb had showed a lack of remorse for the killing and demonstrated misconduct in prison, and because prosecutors recommended he remain in prison.

In November 2012, the board granted Robb parole. In a printed notice - one of the few documents the board makes public - the board wrote that Robb had participated in "prescribed institutional programs," demonstrated good behavior, and accepted responsibility for his crime.

The board takes several factors into account when deciding whether to parole an offender, Dunn said, including the circumstances of the crime and the offender's criminal history, character, and background. Letters from victims' families are also taken into account, as well as information from the offender's presentencing investigation and recommendations from wardens and prosecutors.


Contact Aubrey Whelan

at 610-313-8112 or awhelan@philly.com, or follow on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.

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