Commentary

Julia Phillips to make one more court appearance before resuming life sentence

November 9, 2013 

Julia Phillips at her murder trial in September.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com Buy Photo

— - Convicted killer Julia Phillips, 69, has received a short reprieve from her sentence of life in prison for killing former York Mayor Melvin Roberts.

Phillips, convicted in Septemberof the 2010 strangling death of her longtime boyfriend Roberts, is in the Cherokee County jail. She is scheduled to appear in criminal court Tuesday on probation violation allegations that she failed to make proper restitution after she admitted stealing $2,000 in rent money from Roberts before the murder.

The family of Melvin Roberts will bein the courtroom to see the woman who police, prosecutors and Roberts’ family said all along lied about being a victim in the attack and who plotted the killing.

“I wouldn’t miss seeing her in court for the first time as a convicted murderer,” said David Roberts, one of Melvin Roberts’ two sons. “Plus – the restitution was supposed to be paid to us. In everything in Julia Phillips’ life, she leaves victims.”

Phillips, from Gaffney, lived with Roberts at his York home for 10 years until his death.

Roberts, a former York mayor and lawyer for 55 years who had other businesses, had planned to sever the relationship and had already cut off all the financial support he had given Phillips for a decade. Prosecutors said Phillips’ motive for murder was to kill Roberts before he could change his will and take away a $150,000 building Phillips stood to inherit.

Phillips already was close to penniless at the time of the crime after years of prescription narcotic drug abuse that siphoned away all the money Roberts gave her to run a Gaffney cosmetic and clothing business. Testimony at the trial showed Phillips spent upwards of $60,000 and the store was bankrupt.

In 2011, while on house arrest awaiting trial on the murder charge, Phillips pleaded guilty to stealing rent money from Roberts Realty. She was placed on five years probation and ordered to pay the money back. She failed to do so.

Officials with the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon are expected to ask a judge Tuesday to make a judgment against her. Court records show Phillips has failed to pay other creditors for years – even while Roberts paid all the bills.

A jury in an eight-day trial needed just a few hours to return a guilty conviction against Phillips, despite the theory of law enforcement officers that Phillips did not work alone. No one else has been arrested in the killing. Phillips’ son, William Hunter Stephens, 50, a convicted felon in prison on drug and fraud charges, was a suspect in the case but never charged.

Phillips has appealed her conviction and life sentence, but any hearings on that are likely years away – if they ever happen. Most appeals never see a courtroom. So this brief trip home to Gaffney, where she grew up and lived – albeit a trip to jail and court, not to her former home – could be the last time Phillips ever is outside of prison.

Cherokee County jail records show she was brought there from a Columbia prison Thursday. She is expected to be sent back to the Columbia prison after court Tuesday.

“I look forward to the chance to see Julia Phillips, who killed my dad, one last time,” David Roberts said.

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

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