Trial of girlfriend accused of killing former York mayor resumes Tuesday

jmcfadden@heraldonline.com adys@heraldonline.comSeptember 2, 2013 

— Prosecutors in Julia Phillips’ murder trial in the strangling death of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts will continue to try to prove a largely circumstantial case today as the trial starts a second week.

Phillips’ lawyer, Bobby Frederick, is expected to continue to challenge police claims about gunshot residue on her clothes, and tell jurors that authorities have no direct evidence to prove Phillips had any role in the death of her longtime boyfriend.

Phillips, 69, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

Testimony is expected as early as today from prosecution witnesses that allege gunshot residue was found on the sleeves of Phillips’ blouse, despite her having claimed she had not fired a gun in years.

Frederick has stated in court that he plans to call expert witnesses to refute the gunshot residue claims of police. He has mentioned several times that residue could have been transferred by police touching Phillips’ clothes. Prosecutors have balked at that theory.

Phillips is accused of fabricating a story about having been attacked on Feb. 4, 2010, outside Roberts’ York home on the night he was killed. Roberts was beaten over the head, shot at and strangled.

Phillips told police she was held captive outside on that rainy day for at least a half hour in a robbery attempt, but no money was stolen from Roberts or from her. Police say her clothes were not wet or muddy, the car she sat in was not dirty, and the duct tape she said had been used to bind her was not tight.

Prosecutors say Roberts, who practiced law in York County for 55 years, was going to cut off his financial support to Phillips, who had a several-hundred-dollar-a-month narcotic prescription drug abuse habit. Phillips, who lives in Gaffney but stayed with Roberts in York for years, stood to gain from Roberts’ will a building in Gaffney valued at $150,000.

Last week, police testified that Phillips’ story of having been attacked by a black or Hispanic assailant was “misleading,” and said “red flags” from the beginning pointed to her involvement in the crime. The person who actually strangled Roberts has never been caught, prosecutors say, but Phillips was part of the plot.

At the end of testimony last week, a Gaffney police informant claimed Phillips sought to hire an assassin to kill Roberts.

Frederick challenged the credibility of the claims of the witness, and has argued police never found the two unknown attackers that he said are responsible for Roberts’ death.

Phillips pleaded guilty in 2011 to stealing $2,000 from Roberts’ realty company, but that conviction is not expected to be presented to the jury as part of the prosecution case alleging she killed Roberts in a desperate grab for money before she was cut off.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. today.

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