‘Small town’ York finally can move past specter of death

ColumnistOctober 31, 2013 

— The city of York, population less than 8,000, has maybe a handful of lawyers. But in the past three years, two of those lawyers were killed by their girlfriends.

In a place the York mayor describes as a “small town where everybody knows everybody,” everybody knew lawyers Michael Howe and Melvin Roberts.

Everybody knew Roberts was strangled in 2010 and that, just seven weeks ago, his longtime girlfriend Julia Phillips was sentenced to life in prison for killing him.

And now everybody will know that Christina Adams, longtime girlfriend of Michael Howe, will spend 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Adams – who lived with and was financially supported by her lawyer boyfriend – picked up a gun in October 2011 and shot him five times.

Melvin Roberts died fighting for life outside his home in York at age 79. Michael Howe died fighting for life in his bathroom at age 44.

Far too much death in a tiny legal community in a small town.

“I knew Michael Howe, I liked Michael Howe, I went to church with him,” said Mayor Eddie Lee. “York is a small place. People know each other. They know his family and knew he was shot and killed. Just like they knew Melvin Roberts was killed.”

The difference Wednesday, though, was that Adams, 29, who had endured horrible sexual abuse and more as a child, pleaded guilty to killing Howe.

It was a gun crime that could have been averted if Adams had just left the house that awful night in 2011. She chose to fire a gun instead. Ten times.

Adams admitted her crime. Phillips admitted nothing, claimed to be a victim, and still was found guilty by a jury.

When Phillips was convicted in early September, there were hugs and tears of joy and relief for Roberts’ family and friends in that same Moss Justice Center courtroom in York that the friends and family of Michael Howe left Wednesday in silence.

Former York County Coroner Doug McKown watched the guilty plea be delivered as he tried not to cry for his slain best friend.

“The doors of justice swing both ways – I should know,” McKown said after the hearing. “I received my justice in this courtroom and today, Michael Howe’s family received theirs.”

In 2008, after claiming for years he was not guilty, a jury in the same courtroom found McKown not guilty of felony drug-dealing charges.

A couple of years back, McKown opened the Crossroads Cafe restaurant in York. The name came from the Crossroads Deli opened by Howe more than two decades ago, also right there in York where Howe grew up.

“The name is to honor him,” McKown said. “It keeps part of him alive.”

Lawyer Stacy Lewis, who worked with Howe for years, also was in the courtroom. But the two men were not just colleagues, they were close friends.

Lewis heard the courtroom words of Mickey Howe, Michael’s mother, a retired employee at the York County Clerk of Court office. She spoke about how her son would help the people of York as a lawyer – sometimes for little or no money.

“Michael was generous and the people who really knew him knew that,” Lewis said.

Lewis and McKown hope that at least part of Howe’s legacy will be that generosity to the people of York, and not the awful way he was killed.

Mayor Lee hopes York can move on from being the place where two lawyers died at the hands of live-in girlfriends solving domestic disputes by killing.

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

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