Alleged killer of former York mayor to have mental evaluation next week

Herald columnistDecember 4, 2012 

  • Want to help? Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the York Police Department at 803-684-4141. Want to help? To read previous coverage of the death of Melvin Roberts and arrest and court proceedings against Julia Phillips, go to heraldonline.com.

— Julia Phillips, the ex-girlfriend accused of killing former York Mayor Melvin Roberts in 2010, is scheduled to undergo a court-ordered mental evaluation next week that will determine if she is competent to stand trial.

The evaluation comes six months after Phillips’ lawyer claimed in court documents that she is not mentally competent to understand the charges against her or to help with her own defense.

Prosecutors have not opposed the evaluation, but after Phillips was arrested, court testimony from law enforcement portrayed Phillips as a schemer who set up the killing of Roberts after he threatened to cut off financial support.

Phillips’ competency was not brought up as an issue last year when she pleaded guilty to felony breach of trust after stealing $2,000 from Roberts’ realty company in the months just before Roberts was killed. Phillips is on probation for that crime.

Mental competency also was not brought up earlier this year when Phillips did not pay probation officials on time, nor in any of the bond hearings or probable cause hearings when Phillips has been in court.

Roberts, 79, was found strangled in his driveway on Feb. 4, 2010. Phillips initially told police she had been tied up and robbed that day, but she was charged with murder three months later when police said the story was a hoax.

She has been under house arrest in Gaffney since soon after her arrest as police continue to investigate the case that detectives have always claimed involved at least one other person.

State prosecutors from Greenville are handling the case because of Roberts’ ties to York County judges and prosecutors. Roberts was a lawyer in York for 55 years before he was killed. Phillips lived with him for about a decade.

If Phillips – whose lawyer has said was too small and frail to have killed Roberts – is found incompetent, she would receive mental health treatment before any criminal trial could take place.

Phillips is 67 according to arrest records, but her lawyer, Bobby Frederick, has said in court she could be as old as 71. Frederick could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Marcia Barker, spokeswoman for the solicitor’s office in Greenville County, confirmed that the mental competency test is set for next week but declined further comment except to say that the investigation is continuing.

Lt. Rich Caddell of the York Police Department said Tuesday he is also aware that Phillips is set to be tested.

“We certainly are interested in the procedure and its ultimate result,” he said.

In court hearings, prosecutors and police have stated Phillips had financial motives for killing Roberts and did not act alone. Roberts was going to cut off financial support to Phillips before the killing, prosecutors have said.

Police in Gaffney even alleged that Phillips talked about having Roberts killed. Further, Phillips stood to inherit property from Roberts’ will.

Phillips’ son, who faces drug, identity theft and other charges in Cherokee County, was questioned by police after the killing but never charged, according to court testimony and records.

Investigators continue to interview people connected with Roberts’ death, Caddell said.

But with the three-year anniversary of the killing approaching in February, and no trial date set while Phillips’ mental state is challenged, police have made no other arrests.

Roberts’ death spurred Phillips’ stepdaughters to successfully sue to have Phillips evicted from the Gaffney house she inherited from her late husband, Bryant Phillips, who died in 1999.

However, the judge in the Roberts murder case ordered that Phillips live in the house while on bail pending trial.

Phillips’ stepdaughters also asked that Bryant Phillips’ body be exhumed and tested to determine a cause of death. Results are still pending, Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said Tuesday.

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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