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Ex-Penn prof, leaving jail in wife's manslaughter, asks for funds

Ten years ago this week Rafael Robb bludgeoned his wife to death in their Upper Merion Township home as she was wrapping Christmas presents, later telling a judge he just "lost it."

Rafael Robb is finishing a 10-year sentence.
Rafael Robb is finishing a 10-year sentence.Read more

Ten years ago this week Rafael Robb bludgeoned his wife to death in their Upper Merion Township home as she was wrapping Christmas presents, later telling a judge he just "lost it."

And next month, Robb, a former University of Pennsylvania professor and leading scholar in game theory, will complete a 10-year prison sentence that members of the victim's family considered far too lenient.

One thing Robb will need upon his release, he says, is money. But he has to ask a judge for access to his money, because he owes more than $128 million to the estate of his wife, Ellen Gregory Robb.

That amount - awarded by a jury after a 2014 civil trial - would go to the couple's daughter, who was 12 when her mother died. Robb's assets remain frozen as he appeals a Montgomery County judge's ruling that his nearly $2.8 million in retirement assets are not exempt from going to his wife's estate.

Now, Robb wants $100,000 released to him "for the purposes of rent, furnishings, clothing, food, utilities, phone . . . and other like necessary items of living" once he is released in the second week of January, according to a court motion filed by his attorney.

Montgomery County Judge Thomas M. DelRicci has scheduled a hearing on Robb's request on Tuesday in Norristown.

Ellen Gregory Robb's family members, who have criticized Robb's five- to 10-year prison sentence as too short and say he attempted to manipulate his daughter from prison by threatening to withhold financial support, oppose his request for the release of funds.

Robb "has considered himself above the law with respect to his assets," Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney for Ellen Gregory Robb's family, wrote in a court filing last month. He said Robb had previously concealed some of his assets that he was required to report to the court.

Robb also "has a history of transferring assets internationally," Mongeluzzi wrote, including sending more than $250,000 to his sister in Israel years ago - a transfer he acknowledged during a deposition.

Attorneys for the family are seeking to depose Robb again to learn about his other assets.

Robb, now 66, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2007. He told a judge he "lost it" when he began fighting with his wife over her holiday plans.

His wife's family says he had a history of manipulative and abusive behavior. They argued at the 2014 civil trial that the killing was premeditated.

His wife had met with a divorce lawyer and was planning to take her daughter out of state to see relatives for the holidays and her 50th birthday when she was killed Dec. 22, 2006.

She was so badly injured that detectives at first believed she had been shot with a machine gun.

Robb attempted to stage a robbery scene as a cover-up at the home, in the Wayne section of the Montgomery County township, before he was charged with first- and third-degree murder. He pleaded guilty as his trial was set to begin in 2007.

Ellen Gregory Robb's family successfully argued for the parole board to reverse its decision to release him before the end of his 10-year sentence. Their efforts included the passage of state legislation that allows victims' families to meet with the parole board.

But next month, his sentence expires.

Robb's plans once he is released are not disclosed in his court filing seeking $100,000, which his attorney said would cover his expenses for a year.

"Should the court not consider the release of these funds, [Robb] will have no other option but to fall back on the taxpayers for public assistance and public housing to sustain his life and needs into his later years," his lawyer, Eric Levin, wrote in a court filing. Levin did not return a message left last week.

Robb's assets totaled more than $3 million as of December 2014, according to court filings, and have been in a constructive trust for the last three years as the civil lawsuit his wife's family brought against him unfolded.

The assets include IRA accounts with Vanguard and Fidelity, a retirement plan totaling more than $2 million, and the family's home in Upper Merion, which has a value of about $350,000. As a University of Pennsylvania economics professor, Robb earned a salary of $180,000, according to court filings. Ellen Gregory Robb was a homemaker.

Robb previously sought to shield $2.8 million in retirement assets from his wife's estate. A judge denied that request in January, ruling that he could not benefit from his wife's death under the Pennsylvania Slayer's Act. An appeal of that decision is pending before the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Robb is serving his sentence at a state prison in Erie County. A judge ordered him to appear at Tuesday morning's hearing in Norristown via video conference.

610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal