Columnist

On 4th anniversary of ex-York Mayor Roberts’ murder, sons trying to find ‘uncaught killer’

February 4, 2014 

— It was rainy and cold on Tuesday, but a pair of sons named Roberts braved the weather to stand at a graveside in tiny McConnells.

“Nasty, just like four years ago on this day,” said David Roberts.

Feb. 4, 2010 – an awful day for weather and anybody named Roberts – was the day former York Mayor Melvin Roberts was hit over the head, shot at and strangled outside his home. Roberts, 79, a lawyer in York for 55 years, died gasping for breath in the cold rain.

Tuesday also was the 70th birthday of Roberts’ longtime girlfriend, Julia Phillips. She is serving a life sentence at Leath Correctional Institution, after her conviction in September for accessory to murder in Roberts’ death. Phillips, who stole money from Roberts to support her lifestyle and prescription narcotic habit, was convicted of setting up a scheme to have Roberts killed before he severed the relationship and cut off the gravy train, including a $150,000 building in Gaffney that she stood to inherit.

Police have never said that she acted alone in the killing. Prosecutors never told the jury that Phillips pulled the zip tie around Roberts’ neck, which led to his suffocation. The investigators’ theory has always been that Phillips and at least one other person – maybe more – killed Roberts.

Phillips’ claims of being a robbery and kidnapping victim at the hands of a Hispanic or black assassin when Roberts was killed was a smokescreen she used to try to deflect police from her or her cohorts.

Despite Phillips’ conviction, Roberts’ sons remain focused on finding the other killer or killers.

“We appreciate the jury’s decision in Julia’s trial, but we are going forward, trying to find out who else was involved in Dad’s murder,” Ronnie Roberts said Tuesday. “We hope that someone who knows something will come forward. The police have not stopped looking. We will never stop looking for the uncaught killer.

“We will never stop until we find everyone who had a role in this.”

York Police Department detectives continue to work the case, but no one other than Phillips has ever been charged. Phillips’ son William Hunter Stephens, who is currently serving prison time for fraud and drug offenses, was a suspect in Roberts’ death but was never charged. Stephens, 50, claimed that his arrest on those charges was a ploy by police to try to pin Roberts’ death on him.

Phillips did call her son twice before calling 911 with the bogus report of robbery the night Melvin Roberts was killed, police have said, but Stephens had an alibi. A former police officer testified at Phillips’ murder that Stephens was with him in Gaffney – 25 miles away – around the same time Phillips called 911.

In the four years since Roberts was killed, no other suspect has been identified by police, or even Phillips’ attorney. Her lawyer had an investigator follow people for months to collect DNA to try to match DNA samples found at the crime scene.

David Roberts said he and his brother can’t rest – and their father can’t truly rest in peace – until all those involved in plotting and carrying out Roberts’ death are caught.

“They can’t rest, either,” David Roberts said about those involved but never arrested. “They are out there. They know what happened.”

Phillips maintained her innocence from the time she was arrested in May 2010 through her trial, and has appealed her conviction and life sentence. That appeal is pending.

David and Ronnie Roberts don’t want to look backward any more.

Phillips’ birthday never came up at the graveside. The fact that both Phillips and Stephens, Mom and son convicts, work as custodians in prison cleaning toilets never came up. Each said their focus is on the “uncaught killer” or killers, who might be holding secrets.

“They are still out there,” David Roberts said, “and the intent is to find them.”

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

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