In January, walking his dog before his arrest, the professor told me he was an innocent man. Looked me right in the eye and said, "No I did not. I did not kill her."
Today, Rafael Robb told a judge something else. He admitted to bashing his wife Ellen repeatedly in the head and face with a chin-up bar, then staging a break-in and hiding the evidence so he could blame the whole thing on a burglar.
Robb took the stand in the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa. this morning after striking a deal with the DA. He admits to killing his wife in a fit of rage and faces voluntary manslaughter instead of first degree murder, avoiding a long trial and a possible life sentence. Instead, he'll likely get in the range of 5 to 10 years, and could wind up serving even less.
This was a particularly vicious attack. Ellen was bludgeoned so badly investigators initially thought she'd been blasted at close range with a shotgun or rifle. The DA was prepared to introduce testimony from experts suggesting this was an "enraged blitz attack" by someone who knew the victim and was trying to "wipe her face off the map." Robb knew about the experts and knew he faced a lengthy trial process and the potential of life behind bars. So, after almost a year of denials, he came clean.
He admitted staging evidence of a break-in at the house and disposing of the weapon and bloody clothes in a dumpster in Chinatown. He says this was a spur of the moment event that he just "lost it" when he found out Ellen was taking their daughter to Massachusetts and the girl might miss some school.
The prosecutor says there's more to it. The couple fought often, he says, and she'd signed a lease on an apartment and spoken to a divorce lawyer, telling the professor she'd be seeking a large alimony.
Still, with a guilty plea comes some level of closure.
Ellen's brothers and other family and friends filled the front row of the courtroom, holding hands and sobbing as the professor recounted his evil explosion.
Afterward they choked up, remembering Ellen as an "angel on earth," speaking of the love she and Rafael shared for their daughter Olivia.
"Both of them put her first, beyond anything else..." Ellen's brother Art remembered. "To the very tragic end."
Rick Leventhal has been a New York-based correspondent with the FOX News Channel since June 1997. You can read his bio here.