Rafael Robb, the former University of Pennsylvania professor who bludgeoned his wife to death in their Upper Merion home in 2006, has asked a Montgomery County Court judge to allow him to travel to Israel to handle family matters.
Robb, who is on probation for the killing, needs court permission to make the trip.
Prosecutors oppose the travel request, as does the family of Ellen Gregory Robb, the 49-year-old woman who authorities say was savagely attacked while wrapping Christmas presents in the kitchen of her Wayne home.
Gary Gregory, her brother, said he was shocked and disappointed when he read about Robb’s Friday request in a news article.
“He purposefully, from my vantage, is looking to avoid obligation," Gregory said. “It’s time again for the judicial system to do the right thing."
Deputy District Attorney Samantha Cauffman said Robb would pose a flight risk if allowed to travel overseas.
“The defendant has a history of being very manipulative. He’s very intelligent,” she said. “And certainly given the facts of this case, there’s no way he should leave the country.”
Attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who represents Ellen Gregory Robb’s estate in civil matters, agreed.
“There’s a very real fear he’d go to Israel — where his sister is, where he’s sent money — and never come back, and escape justice,” he said.
In 2006, the gruesome crime drew wide local and national attention. It remains one of the most violent cases in the region’s history.
Robb, now 68, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2007, telling a judge he “lost it” during an argument over holiday vacation plans and clubbed his wife to death with a metal exercise bar. She was beaten so brutally that officers first thought she’d suffered a close-range shotgun blast to the head.
Since then, he hasn’t exactly flown under the radar.
A month after his release, Robb was back in court, was questioned by a judge, and was told to turn over more information about his assets as part of a civil case brought by his wife’s estate.
In a judgment in that case, Robb was ordered to pay $128 million to his daughter, Olivia, who was 12 when her mother was killed. Mongeluzzi declined to say how much, if any, of that money has been paid.
At his latest court appearance Friday, Robb, representing himself, asked for permission to travel to Israel in August, Cauffman said, to handle matters related to his mother’s estate.
A Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole agent recommended the request be granted, Cauffman said. The board couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
To Gregory, the board’s recommendation felt like “deja vu," he said, reminding him and his family of when the same board granted Robb parole in 2013, before reversing the decision amid national outcry.
During the days Robb wants to travel, he is supposed to appear at a contempt hearing in Montgomery County Court, Mongeluzzi said.
Having received little notice of Friday’s proceeding, Cauffman said she voiced prosecutors’ opposition, but asked Judge Gary S. Silow for more time to prepare an argument.
He scheduled another hearing for July 12, Cauffman said, and ordered that a probation and parole board supervisor attend.
Leaving court Friday, Robb didn’t comment on the hearing or the crime, only telling a Pottstown Mercury and Norristown Times Herald reporter: “Move on with your life. Find something more interesting to do with yourself.”
Neither Robb nor an attorney for him could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Robb had said he intended to move to Pittsburgh after his release from prison, but his current address is unknown. He will be on supervised probation until 2027.
Robb’s brief comment after Friday’s hearings, Gregory said, showed just how cold his former brother-in-law is.
“You just realize this guy has no remorse,” he said, his voice catching, “and my sister is serving a life sentence, and we all bear it.”
Gregory and other relatives have said they believe the killing was premeditated, coming amid a tumultuous marriage during which Rafael Robb abused and manipulated his wife. Before the killing, she had met with a divorce attorney and made plans to take her daughter out of state for the holidays.
They also worked to change Pennsylvania law to allow for victims’ families to meet with the parole board. In Ellen Gregory Robb’s memory, they started a foundation with the same initials, Every Great Reason, to spread awareness about domestic violence and support those who have been abused. Recently, Gregory said, they’ve put on plays that educate viewers about domestic violence and taped a national TV program.
Despite everything they’ve endured, Gregory said the family, including Olivia, is doing well. Gregory said they plan to attend the July 12 hearing to continue to advocate for her. He’s still in shock, he said, that Robb almost got his travel request addressed without opposition.
“It really struck me,” Gregory said. “He was one hearing away from being able to leave the country.”