YORK — After her longtime boyfriend Melvin Roberts had been killed, Julia Phillips asked police if photos they took of her would be sent to Playboy magazine, one of the investigators probing the former York mayors murder testified Wednesday.
Phillips was joking, said Sarah Robbins, a retired lieutenant with the York Police Department now working for the 16th Circuit Solicitors Office.
She testified that Phillips was calm during a five-hour interview with police on Feb. 4, 2010, the day Roberts was found dead in the driveway of the couples home.
That calm was punctuated by moments of sorrow, Robbins said. She would break down and cry.
But, as police testified and video displayed in court showed, Phillips also asked a police officer if he was married with children, often went off topic and talked about how difficult it would be to close Roberts estate.
Phillips, 69, is on trial for murder, accused of killing Roberts when she learned the attorney and former York mayor planned to end their relationship stifling her chance to inherit $150,000 worth of property he had left her in his will.
Phillips and her lawyer claim she was ambushed from behind by a Hispanic man as she tried to take groceries, a case of Mikes Hard Lemonade and a gift she had bought for Roberts from her car.
That man, she told police that night, wrapped her mouth, ankles, arms, head and eyes in duct tape. He demanded money, she said, and threatened to kill her when she spoke.
Once dragging her behind the wall, the robber did not leave Phillips side, she said, until he heard Roberts arrive home. Phillips said she heard scuffling, something like a pipe fall to the ground and Roberts curse before she heard a small gunshot.
After freeing herself from the duct tape and running to her car, she said, she tried calling 911 twice but could not get through.
Phone company records and a photograph of Phillips call history showed she called her home in Gaffney twice before calling 911, said York Police Lt. Dale Edwards, who questioned Phillips after Roberts was found strangled.
Between sobs, Phillips said: Dale, it seems so much like a dream...he drug me to the brick wall. It seems so much like a dream.
As Phillips cried, Edwards zoomed the video closer to her face to show that there were no actual tears, he testified Wednesday. Phillips still had duct tape on her body as she spoke with Edwards, he said, and never asked to take it off.
Edwards testified that the duct tape appeared extremely loose, and prosecutors presented photos showing the looped tape around Phillips ankle.
During her conversation with police, Phillips reminisced about when she and Roberts first met. They did not get along, she said, and Roberts called her an ice queen and Queen of Sheba.
Eventually, she said, they fell in love and rarely argued. She described disputes between Roberts two sons, David Roberts and Ronnie Roberts, and predicted it would be difficult to close out Melvins estate.
Police took photos of Phillips, including scratches and bruises on her hands, elbow and face. She did not explain how she received those injuries.
She did jokingly ask if the photos would appear in Playboy magazine, Robbins testified, and objected to police taking her shoes and undergarments to be tested, .
(The robber) was not in my panties, Phillips said on the police recording.
Authorities obtained a search warrant forcing Phillips to relinquish the clothing, most of which was dry, aside from her blue jeans, which had been muddied toward the bottom, Robbins said.
Those clothes were sent to a crime lab at the State Law Enforcement Division, where they tested positive for gunshot residue, despite Phillips claims that she had not fired a gun in years.
Kris Hodge, the 13th Circuit assistant solicitor prosecuting Phillips, asked Robbins and later Edwards if they fired their guns around the time they spoke with Phillips on Feb. 4. Both answered no.
In opening arguments on Tuesday, Phillips lawyer, Myrtle Beach attorney Bobby Frederick, alleged that gunshot residue might have landed on Phillips while she was in a police car or at the police station.
The solicitors office in Greenville is prosecuting Phillips because York County solicitors recused themselves due to past associations with Roberts, who worked as an attorney in York for 55 years. York County judges also recused themselves from the case, which is being heard before Circuit Court Judge Derham Cole of Spartanburg.
The day after Roberts death, Phillips was unable to give a SLED sketch artist a description of the man she said attacked her after initially telling authorities that he had curly hair, brown eyes and spoke Spanish in a gentle voice.
She suspected he was a school kid whose eyes were not wild, Robbins said.
But Frederick said police preyed on Phillips when they asked her to help develop a sketch of a suspect after spending five hours interviewing her and realizing that she was inconsistent and exaggerated facts.
Isnt it true that didnt serve any purpose but to prompt her to make more inconsistent statements? Frederick asked Robbins on cross-examination.
We were trying to get a consistent description, Robbins answered.
Robbins later testified that its typical for police to ask a victim to help with a suspect sketch if the assailant could be dangerous and is believed to be roaming freely in the community.
On Tuesday, Frederick said one of Roberts neighbors told police she saw an older model, black Lincoln Town Car drive into his driveway and turn around quickly. On Wednesday, he pressed Robbins on why she did not document interviews she had with Lincoln Town Car owners in her investigation file.
Robbins said none of those conversations developed into solid leads.
He next asked why she did not follow-up on conversations with two other people who live on Fifth Street, where a York County Sheriffs Office K9 unit tracked a suspects scent and footprints after the murder.
There was nothing to follow up on, Robbins said, adding that no new leads were developed from those interviews.
Also Wednesday, Sgt. Randy Clinton with the York County Sheriffs Office testified that his bloodhound tracked a scent toward Fifth and Ross Cannon streets. Clinton said he found several footprints and toe digs leading down an embankment where it seems someone tripped, got up and ran toward the road.
The scent stopped at a curb, he said, where its possible someone got into a car and left the area.