Could Rafael Robb stay in prison? Judge suggests ex-Penn prof lied about assets

For years, Ellen Gregory Robb's relatives have battled to keep her ex-husband behind bars, convinced that the 10-year term Rafael Robb got for fatally beating her in the couple's Upper Merion home was too lenient.

With Robb scheduled to be freed in three weeks, that campaign was all but over.

But on Tuesday, it may have received new life, as a judge suggested Robb committed perjury by lying about his assets.

During a hearing in Norristown on Robb's bid to get money from his frozen retirement accounts, the former University of Pennsylvania professor testified that he also had a bank account in France with about $5,000.

That was news to Montgomery County Court Judge Thomas M. DelRicci, who had presided over the civil case brought by Robb's former in-laws that included an examination of the killer's wealth.

"There's no reference to France," DelRicci said, reading from two affidavits Robb signed in 2013 listing what he said were all his assets. "That seems to me to create a dilemma. It has other ramifications and those ramifications are quite serious."

Hours after Tuesday's hearing, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said the office would review Robb's testimony to see if new charges are warranted. Perjury is a felony-level crime in Pennsylvania.

The unexpected disclosure was the latest turn in a notorious Christmas season murder case that stunned the region a decade ago, and has reverberated in the years since.

Robb's lawyer, Eric Levin, said in an interview that he did not think his client committed perjury. But, Levin said, "I can't keep the DA from looking into something."

In December 2006, Robb, an economics professor and a leading scholar in game theory, bludgeoned his wife to death as she wrapped presents in their home three days before Christmas. Robb initially called police and reported he found his wife's body, beaten beyond recognition, in their kitchen.

He later admitted the crime and told a judge that he just "lost it."

Robb pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to up to 10 years, and for years his in-laws led the charge to defeat his petitions for early parole. His wife's family has argued that the killing was premeditated, coming after years of abuse and days before Ellen Gregory Robb planned to file for divorce and move out.

His prison term is scheduled to end on Jan. 8, followed by 10 years of probation.

The lawsuit brought by his wife's estate led to an order that Robb pay $128 million, with payments going to the couple's daughter, who was 12 when her mother died. Robb claimed wealth of about $3 million but the funds remain tied up as he asks Superior Court to overturn a judge's decision that his $2.8 million in pension funds could not be shielded from the judgment.

The 66-year-old inmate and his lawyers, appearing via video conference from a state prison in Erie County, came to Tuesday's hearing to argue that Robb is entitled to $100,000 from his retirement accounts to live on after his release.

Robb told the judge he had created a budget of expected expenses after he left prison, and he read aloud from his list. It included up to $25,000 for a car; $200 a month for books and entertainment; $2,000 for a computer; and money for health insurance.

Robb also said that doctors at the prison recently diagnosed him with kidney and prostate cancer, and that he needs $50,000 in dental work.

A Jewish group and a rabbi whom he met while attending services in prison helped him find an apartment in Pittsburgh that costs $900 per month, he said.

Without money, he said, "one option is to go to a shelter and the second option is to go back to the house where I came from."

Robb told the judge he would prefer not to return to the home where he killed his wife. It is jointly owned by him and Ellen Gregory Robb's estate.

Mention of Robb's overseas bank account came up during cross-examination, when an attorney for his wife's estate asked him if he had foreign bank accounts.

He said he had an account in France that he opened about 15 years ago, but had "no idea" how to access it anymore. But the judge appeared most concerned with Robb's failure to disclose it before Tuesday.

Andrew Duffy, a lawyer for Ellen Gregory Robb's estate, said after the hearing that Robb is delusional, and criticized his list of anticipated expenses as an attempt to return to the quality of life he enjoyed before he killed his wife.

"Every time this murderer opens his mouth, we hear of more lies," Duffy said. "We will fight him for every penny."

Robb's attorney said he would withdraw the petition for access to the money.

Gary Gregory, Ellen Gregory Robb's brother, said Monday that his family will continue to work on its foundation, Every Great Reason, to help other victims of domestic abuse and violence.

"For us, it's really a tough time, it's 10 years," he said. "And not just 10 years, but he's about to get out in a couple of weeks and Ellen's serving a life sentence in the grave."

lmccrystal@phillynews.com610-313-8116 @LMcCrystal