Civil Trial to Begin Against Ex-Penn Professor Who Fatally Bludgeoned His Wife With Metal Bar

A trial in the civil case against a former University of Pennsylvania professor who bludgeoned his wife to death in their suburban Philadelphia home as she wrapped Christmas presents will begin Monday.

The case seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Rafael Robb, 64, a former Penn economics professor currently serving a prison sentence for the crime.

Robb beat Ellen Gregory Robb to death with a metal chin-up bar as she was wrapping Christmas gifts back in December 2006 in their King of Prussia home — in order to avoid a costly divorce, according to prosecutors. Their daughter, then 12, was also home at the time.

Ellen Gregory Robb's family wants her estate compensated and money provided for her daughter with the new civil case, according to attorney Robert Mongeluzzi.

“Robb still has a hefty pension fund and investments,” Mongeluzzi said.

The couple's daughter lived in South Jersey with an uncle after her mother’s death before she went off to college, according to Mongeluzzi.

Rafael Robb pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in November 2007 and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. He was initially paroled in November 2012, and the victim's family publicly protested the decision.

The victim's brother Gary Gregory told NBC10's Deanna Durante the family had tried over and over again to protest Robb's release in front of the parole board. Each time, he said, they were denied.

State Rep. Mike Vereb stepped in on the family's behalf and convinced the Chairman of the Parole Board, Michael Potteiger, to meet with the family. Vereb, a Republican, said after researching the case, he'd determined that the parole board likely broke the law and violated the family's rights by not allowing them to speak before the board.

Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Tressler, who oversaw the case, called Ellen's murder one of the most horrific in the history of Montgomery County. He also wrote to the parole board to protest Robb's release. His letter included information about Robb's treatment of his daughter:

"Even more telling is his [Robb's] attempt to manipulate his grieving daughter into continuing her relationship with him by threatening to withhold financial support for her future. I fear his prison conduct and your judgment. About him not being a threat to the public is another example of his manipulation, this time to the parole board."

The board denied breaking any laws and said the responsibility of notifying families about appearing before the board belongs to the Office of the Victim Advocate. However, in January 2013, the board rescinded their decision, just four days before Robb was set to walk free. He remained in prison.

Robb’s daughter will testify during the trial, with Hon. Thomas M. Del Ricci presiding. Rafael Robb will also face cross-examination. Jury selection and opening statements are scheduled for Monday.

"The family of Ellen Gregory Robb has waited eight years to have its day in court," Mongeluzzi said.

Mongeluzzi said he and his co-counsel will illustrate that the death of Ellen Gregory Robb was “so brutal, so heinous, it is beyond human comprehension.” Mongeluzzi also said Ellen Robb’s family would not be able to find any closure or justice until “the circumstances of the killing and the facts of the case have finally been presented to a jury.”

"We have never lost faith in the American justice system and while we know the trial will be terribly painful, especially for my niece, this is what our beloved Ellen would have wanted,” Gary Gregory said.

Rafael Robb will remain incarcerated locally during the trial. The claims against him were brought under Pennsylvania’s wrongful death and survival acts.

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