Parole revoked for ex-Penn professor in wife’s murder

Ellen and Rafael Robb in 1991 . He was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter. He is to be set free Jan. 28 after serving six years. Photo Loft Inc.
Ellen and Rafael Robb in 1991 . He was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter. He is to be set free Jan. 28 after serving six years. Photo Loft Inc.
Posted: January 24, 2013

Gary Gregory stifled his tears once, then twice, as he talked about justice for his sister, Ellen Gregory Robb, who in 2006 was killed by her husband, Rafael Robb.

The emotion came after the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole on Wednesday rescinded its decision to release Robb, 62, from prison. The reversal came after the board received letters from Ellen Robb's family, friends, domestic violence organizations, and the judge who presided over her husband's 2007 trial. They all suggested that the former University of Pennsylvania professor remained a threat and should be kept behind bars.

If the board had stuck to its November decision to parole him, Rafael Robb would have walked out of a state prison in Mercer County on Monday. Now, his next chance at parole will come no sooner than September 2014.

Robb, an expert in economic game theory, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the bludgeoning death of his wife in their Upper Merion home as she was wrapping Christmas gifts. He was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.

Not long before the slaying, Ellen Robb had asked her husband for a divorce.

"It's an exciting - it's an exciting day for the family and for all who have been involved in this," said Gary Gregory at a news conference. "We asked them [parole board members] to do the right thing, and they did the right thing."

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said she usually shares bad news at press conferences.

"But today is different," she said, praising the board's decision and the efforts of Ellen Robb's family to sway the board. "Certainly she is looking down, smiling on us."

State Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery), was more colorful.

"My message to Mr. Robb is that 'this is the captain speaking, and your flight to freedom has been canceled.' We have never been happier."

In a notice to Robb of the reversal, the board wrote that after reviewing his file, along with new messages, reports and evaluations, it had determined he was a risk to the public.

One of the most influential pieces of information seemed to be what the board notice described as "the negative recommendation made by the trial judge."

In a letter given Tuesday to Probation and Parole Board Chairman Michael Potteiger, retired County Court Judge Paul W. Tressler wrote:

"I have been a prosecutor and a judge for almost 40 years, and the attack upon Ellen Robb was the most savage act I have ever encountered. . . . I have never before raised a written objection to this board regarding any inmate, however I am compelled to do so on this occasion."

He called Robb a "highly manipulative individual" who tried to force the couple's daughter, Olivia, into "continuing her relationship with him by threatening to withhold financial support for her future."

Tressler added, "I fear his prison conduct and your judgment about him not being a threat to the public is another example of his manipulation."

Ferman said the board's decision-making process fails to look at subtle differences between cases and convicts. The board, time and again, does not take responsibility for the consequences its decisions may have, she said.

A board spokeswoman declined to comment on the criticisms.

Carol L. Lavery, the Pennsylvania victim advocate, helped Ellen Robb's family pass along information to the board. She was pleased about the parole reversal.

"We rarely see situations in which a decision has been made and then it is reversed," Lavery said. "I'm very glad that the process eventually worked for them."

The process of making parole decisions in Pennsylvania was the topic of discussion Tuesday when Gary Gregory and his brother, Art, met with Potteiger in Harrisburg. Potteiger offered the meeting after the Robb family, Ferman, Vereb, and State Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) made public last week their concerns about the board's decision.

Vereb and Ferman criticized the process Wednesday, citing a discrepancy in state law that makes it unclear whether crime victims or their families have the right to make an oral presentation to the board before a decision is reached.

That discrepancy and differing interpretations of the state's Crime Victims Act from the 1990s have been debated for years, Lavery said. Legislation has been introduced that would mandate that victims and families get the right to meet face-to-face with parole board members.

Vereb said he plans to write and submit a bill soon that would ensure that right.

Ellen Robb's family had established the Every Great Reason Foundation ( http://everygreatreason.org) in memory of their sister, said Gary Gregory, who lives in Sherborn, Mass. The foundation's acronym, EGRF, represents her initials, he said.

"The premise is that every woman has every great reason to move forward and begin a new life," Gary Gregory said. "So we are pleased, proud, and most grateful to be here today and know that we are moving forward and will be doing even more good things for women who suffer domestic violence and abuse."


Contact Carolyn Davis at 610-313-8109, cdavis@phillynews.com, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.

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