Calling the crime "the worst physical bludgeoning" he had ever seen, a Montgomery County Court judge sentenced a former University of Pennsylvania economics professor to five to 10 years in prison for the "hot-blooded" killing of his wife.
After listening to more than two hours of conflicting statements, Judge Paul W. Tressler said he rejected arguments that Rafael Robb, 58, of Upper Merion, deserved a penalty in the aggravated or mitigated range.
Robb pleaded guilty a year ago to voluntary manslaughter for the Dec. 22, 2006, beating death of his wife, Ellen Robb, days before her 50th birthday.
The crime occurred while Ellen Robb was wrapping Christmas gifts in the family's home. Rafael Robb said that they argued over his wife's holiday vacation plans and that he "lost it," clubbing his wife with an exercise bar. Her relatives said she had made plans to leave her husband after years of abuse.
Tressler's sentence devastated the victim's family and supporters, who said they felt strongly that Ellen Robb was victimized anew during the hearing.
"I think the judge gave it great consideration," said former District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., who stayed on to prosecute the case as a "special deputy" even though he became a county commissioner in January. "He came down in the middle; I can't agree."
Lead defense attorney Frank DeSimone said he was "satisfied" with the sentence.
"There won't be any appeals," DeSimone said, adding that Robb was eager to "get on with his life."
Robb, who described his "horrific misdeed" as "aberrational," showed no reaction as the judge issued the penalty.
"I never wanted to hurt Ellen or deprive Olivia of her mother," he said during the hearing, referring to the couple's 14-year-old daughter.
Robb, who was raised in Israel, said his parents were Holocaust victims.
"I grew up to abhor violence," he said.
Castor introduced crime-scene photos that showed Ellen Robb's face "beaten to a pulp." He also presented testimony from Ellen Robb's two brothers, Gary and Art Gregory.
Both said that their sister's marriage to Robb changed her from effervescent to reclusive and that her husband had abused her. Tressler said that no evidence on the record supported that view and that he could not consider it.
DeSimone presented Ellen Robb's medical records to explain why his client "snapped," indicating that she had been treated for attention-deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.
He also introduced photos of the home's interior with "boxes of unpacked materials" to illustrate hoarding of items purchased daily on the Internet. "I couldn't live in there for 10 seconds," DeSimone said.
"You have victims all over the place here," said DeSimone.
Castor emphatically disagreed.
"He is not the victim here," Caster countered. "The victim here is Ellen Robb."
Castor also pointed to the defendant's reluctance to take responsibility for his actions.
"Instead of saying, 'Oh, my God, what have I done?' " Castor said, Robb used his expertise in game theory to try to manipulate investigators, staging a phony break-in, creating an alibi, and lying to police.
Tressler said the gruesome crime-scene photos reinforced the argument that the defendant flew into a rage after years of living with his wife's mental illness.
Under the terms of the sentence, Robb will be eligible for parole in three years, since he has already served two. Assistant District Attorney Robert J. Sander said prosecutors would oppose Robb's release.
Gary Gregory said the family's goal would be to keep Robb in prison "as long as possible." He said his sister had been "literally moments away from emancipation," and he said the family would work hard to fight for victims of domestic violence. A foundation has been set up in Ellen Robb's name - the Every Great Reason Foundation at www.everygreatreason.org - to assist victims of domestic violence.
Tressler said initially he was leaning toward a mitigated sentence until he read a letter that Robb's 14-year-old daughter, who is living with Art Gregory's family, had just received from her father.
Besides the crime, "nothing offends me more than that letter," said Tressler.
"You are not going to manipulate your daughter," the judge said, addressing the defendant.
The letter tells the teenager that she will not receive her "holiday gift" unless she sends him a photo and a copy of her report card.
"Won't the love of money propel you into action?" he asked at the end, signing "luv & kisses, Dad, XOXOXO."