YORK — The evidence is tiny. Small particles measured in microns, not inches or even millimeters.
These particles of lead, antimony and barium together make up what is called gunshot residue. It can spread 10, maybe 12 feet, from a fired gun.
These particles, one on each shirt sleeve, are really not tiny, though. In evidence terms, they are huge.
Gunshot reside, even the lawyer for Julia Phillips concedes, could be what sends her to prison for the rest of her life for her alleged role in the 2010 killing of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts.
Not because Roberts was shot and killed. But because Roberts was shot at, at the time he was killed. And fired guns give off residue. The science is not a witness; it cannot lie.
No other way on earth do these particles exist together except after a gun has been fired and the particles land.
So, at 3:03 p.m. Tuesday, the very last prosecution witness against Julia Phillips testified. He is an expert witness from the State Law Enforcement Division named John Roberts, no relation to Melvin Roberts.
Many times, Phillips told police times she hadn’t fired a gun in at least five years. Many times, she claimed to have been attacked by an assassin who dragged her behind a wall at least 50 feet from where Roberts died.
But John Roberts told the jury the following words when asked by prosecutor Kris Hodge how the residue could have gotten on the white silk long-sleeved blouse Phillips was wearing the night Melvin Roberts was killed:
“Either by firing a weapon or being near it when it was fired.”
The black jersey over that white silk blouse had round lead fragments on it, the SLED expert testified. Such fragments are not found almost any other way on earth, except around gunfire.
Asked again how the lead fragments got on the black jersey, John Roberts said:
“Either by firing a gun or being near one when it went off.”
Seconds later, the prosecution rested its case.
The gunshot residue was on her clothes, despite Phillips’ claim that she had not been near a fired weapon in five years. Defense lawyer Bobby Frederick will probably challenge that gunshot residue evidence with his own hired-gun expert, and has already pointed out there were just two small particles.
Frederick also said in court – outside the presence of the jury – that the case comes down to gunshot residue and the bombshell testimony last week of a police informant who claimed Phillips tried to hire him and other to kill Roberts.
The jury might say the snitch – a professional stool pigeon and admitted criminal and black-market plastic surgeon – cannot be believed even if he claims the sun rises in the east or that Beyonce is beautiful.
Or the jury might believe every thrilling word the snitch said.
But the particles, microns tiny, were there as science, not courtroom theater.
No amount of arguing will take them away, even if Frederick tries to show that it is possible the particles had been transferred from somewhere else by shoddy cops who botched the case to begin with.
But police and prosecutors now have the gunshot in this trial, along with at least 12 statements Phillips made to police that were inconsistent at best, and what police have called misleading and lies at worst.
No police officer in the case testified that Phillips’ claim of being attacked the same night, and her statements to police afterward, were anything but a hoax made up to protect herself.
She gave police the names of every black or Hispanic man it seems she ever met to get police to search for Roberts’ killer elsewhere. She changed her story so many times, that she finally said her attacker may have had dreadlocks, after first saying she never saw his hair and later saying it was curly.
Dreadlocks hang, usually, in ropes of hair from the head of a black person. They carry a religious significance for many black people; they are a custom for others. Millions of people wear dreadlocks, and it is not a crime to do so.
But, more than a month after she says she was attacked, Julia Phillips recalled these alleged dreadlocks on an attacker she initially said she never saw.
Just before the gunshot residue evidence was introduced, Fort Mill Police Capt. Scott Williams, who worked for SLED at the time of Roberts’ killing, testified about going to see Phillips at her Gaffney store.
He left, then Phillips called his office, to get him to call her back.
Phillips claimed in that phone call that she had heard her assailants’ Hispanic voice at the Bi-Lo grocery store two weeks before calling Williams – a full month after the crime. But she never called police and didn’t share that information until two weeks later.
She had no explanation for not calling the cops for two weeks about hearing the same voice as the man who she says attacked her and killed Roberts.
Phillips then, said Williams, “inquired about the possibility of one of Mr. Roberts’ sons being involved.”
Neither Ronnie Roberts nor David Roberts is black or Hispanic, and neither wears anything close to dreadlocks.
She made that claim to police six weeks after Melvin Roberts was strangled, after admitting that she never even checked on him the night he was lying dead on the ground in the cold rain.
In that courtroom Tuesday sat both of Roberts’ sons.
Neither lashed out. Neither did anything. They have waited for 42 months for the trial of the woman accused of setting up a hit on their father.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org