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Professor pleads guilty to killing his wife as she wrapped Christmas presents

An Ivy League professor pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He murdered his wife when she was wrapping Christmas presents last year.

An Ivy League professor pleaded guilty Monday to voluntary manslaughter for killing his wife as she wrapped Christmas presents last year, telling a judge he "just lost it" during an argument.

Rafael Robb, a tenured economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is originally from Israel, faces a likely prison sentence of 4 1/2 to seven years for bludgeoning his wife, Ellen, on Dec. 22.

Robb, 57, said Monday that he got into an argument with his wife about a trip she was taking with their daughter and whether they would be returning in time for the daughter to return to school.

"We started a discussion about that. The discussion was tense," Robb said. "We were both anxious about it. We both got angry. At one point, Ellen pushed me. ... I just lost it."

He apologized to his 13-year-old daughter and family.

"I know she liked her mother. ... And now she doesn't have a mother," he said, stifling tears.

"It's a classic heat-of-passion killing," said Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor.

Robb's attorney and prosecutors say Robb feared his wife was leaving him and would keep him away from their daughter.

Robb, who has been held without bail, spoke to his daughter by phone over the weekend and told her that he was responsible for the killing. They have not seen each other since he was arrested earlier this year.

Robb is an expert in game theory, a complex melding of psychology, human behavior and economics - all aimed at determining what one's adversary will do next. With that background, police said, Robb probably thought he could outsmart them.

Detectives believed the scene had been staged to look like a burglary. The murder weapon - a grab-rail exercise bar that had not yet been installed, Robb said - was not found.

Ellen Robb was described as a stay-at-home mother who doted on their only child. Rafael Robb earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles , in 1981. He had been at Penn for at least four years when the slaying occurred.

The couple had been married since 1990 but had long been estranged - keeping separate bedrooms - while living together in the house.

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