Ellen Robb lost so much blood it seeped through the grout of her kitchen floor.
The vivid memory of missing tiles and blood stains still haunts her daughter, who was 12 when her mother was bludgeoned to death while wrapping Christmas gifts in the family’s King of Prussia, Pennsylvania home.
Some jurors cried quietly as Ellen’s daughter, now 20, testified about the emotional impact of losing first her mother, and then her father. He eventually confessed to the crime and went to prison.
"I didn’t believe it for a while,” Olivia Robb said. “I had my suspicions, but it’s your father.”
Both daughter and dad took the stand Tuesday, testifying in what some court observers considered one of the more dramatic days they could recall at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown.
For Olivia, it was the first time she’d faced her father in 8 years, testifying against him in a civil suit asking under the Wrongful Death Act, for both punitive and compensatory damages.
Robb, 64, was an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006 when he murdered his wife, who was about to leave the marriage. The violent and bloody details of the slaying were never revealed in a trial because Robb was able to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He’s serving a 5-to-10 year prison term.
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"The family of Ellen Robb has asked that we accomplish three things,” attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said. “Bring out in court what really happened that day, put Rafael Robb on the stand to explain this, to compensate Olivia for the loss of her mother and to make sure that Rafael Robb, if and when he’s ever released from prison, does not lead a life of luxury while Ellen Robb is in a coffin in the ground.”
Robb took the stand for more than two hours, admitting he killed his wife and then tried to convince police it was a robbery. The damage to Ellen’s face, head and skull was so severe detectives initially thought she was the victim of a blast from a high-powered rifle. Mongeluzzi confronted Robb on the stand.
Mongeluzzi: “You beat her face in so badly that her brain came out of her skull.”
Robb: “I did it.”
Robb said "Yes" when asked if he "slaughtered his wife in the kitchen."
Mongeluzzi: "The kitchen scene looked like a horror movie."
Robb: "I’m not denying that."
Mongeluzzi: "And you created that horror scene."
Robb: "I’m not denying that either."
The defense argues the murder was a crime of passion. That Ellen pushed Rafael during an argument and he was so enraged he grabbed an exercise bar nearby and beat her to death.
If jurors believe the murder was premeditated, under Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Law, they could award Ellen’s estate more in damages.
Mongeluzzi’s team has profiled Robb as a controlling and emotionally abusive husband and father. He decided to murder Ellen, they argue, because her decision to leave the marriage meant he was losing control.
"Today was a momentous day. For the first time ever, Rafael Robb took the stand and had his story demolished under cross-examination,” said Mongeluzzi. “It was followed by the testimony of his daughter, who took the stand and faced down her murderous father and stood up for her mother.”
Taking the stand with a box of tissues, Olivia recounted how she got off the school bus on December 22, 2006 to find ambulances and other emergency vehicles in front of her home.
When she asked what was wrong, a police officer didn't reveal that her mother had been murdered, but said instead she'd been gravely injured. Olivia wasn’t allowed to go inside and went to a friend’s house. She explained how she came to understand in a conversation with an investigator, that her mother was dead.
"The detective just started crying and I knew that I lost my mother.”
Every morning when she wakes up, her mother’s murder is the first thing she thinks about.
"I think of all the moments that won’t be there,” she told jurors. “My mother was my best friend.”
Robb glanced at his daughter periodically, but she did not look him in the eyes.
Olivia, who is now in college, said she never wanted to see him again. Her co-counsel, attorney Andrew Duffy asked if she sometimes feels like she lost two parents.
"Absolutely. Absolutely,” she said.