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Politics & Government

New Law Gives Victims a Voice on Release of Offenders

Courtesy Pennsylvania Commonwealth Media Services
Susan Hooper, holds a photo of her brother, Robert Curley, during the signing of House Bill 492.

Ellen Gregory Robb of Montgomery County had been a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Rafael Robb, for many years — until one day she decided she had had enough.

Her 50th birthday was right around the corner as she embarked on her new life.

But when her brother, Gary Gregory, came to pick her up to celebrate, he realized her new beginning had been cut short.

“When she returned to Pennsylvania, she was going to move into a new home and be emancipated, and at that point, she was murdered,” Gregory said. “So as I drove up to the house, I saw the police tape, and saw them place her body into the ambulance.”

Rafael Robb pleaded guilty to his wife’s murder and was sentenced to 5-to-10-years in prison.

When he was set to be released January 28th, Gregory, State Representative Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman fought for the Parole Board to keep him in prison, and succeeded.

“We had already had enlisted the support of the Office of Victim Advocate, and we created a file that was thicker than any file reportedly on record, not to let this criminal go free for what was described as the most brutal killing in the history of Montgomery County in 50 years,” Gregory said.

Now other victims can do the same due to a House Bill 492, which Gov. Tom Corbett signed Tuesday.

Under the new law, the victims or their representatives are allowed to testify before the Parole Board in person or electronically when an offender applies for parole.

This is an amendment to the Crime and Victims Act, which previously only allowed victims to submit a written statement or speak to staff members who could submit a summary of the victim’s comments.

“Thirty-seven years ago, victims had very few rights," Corbett said. "They were the deceased, the victim, the raped, the person who was robbed or assaulted or the spousal member who had been harmed. I don’t want to call this a culmination because I know we have more to do, but this is certainly a mountaintop.”

Another persistent supporter of the legislation was Susan Hooper, whose brother, Robert Curley of Luzerne County, was poisoned to death slowly by his wife so she could cash in a $300,000 life insurance policy and has been through the parole process five times.

“We are here to celebrate the signing of this great legislation giving victims and victim families the chance to meet face to face with those making the decisions for parole,” Hooper said. "We have waited a long time for this; it has been a long and very difficult journey."