YORK — To find their father’s “second” killer, Melvin Roberts’ sons are prepared to spend $10,000.
On Friday, David and Ronnie Roberts stood alongside city of York and York County authorities who announced a $10,000 York County Crimestoppers reward for credible information leading to the second suspect believed to be involved in the strangling of former York mayor Melvin Roberts four years ago.
Each tip will be investigated for its validity, said York Police Lt. Rich Caddell.
Melvin Roberts’ family funded the Crimestoppers reward.
On Feb. 4, 2010, Roberts, 79, was found strangled to death with a zip tie in his driveway. His longtime girlfriend, Julia Phillips, claimed an attacker ambushed her and Roberts, wrapped her in duct tape, forced her behind a brick retaining wall and then killed Roberts. But after giving police several inconsistent statements, Phillips was arrested and charged in Roberts’ murder. Last September, a jury found her guilty of murder.
Roberts, friends testified, had threatened to cut Phillips off financially at a time she was set to inherit $150,000 in his will. Prosecutors said she was a prescription pill addict and asked a black-market plastic surgeon who owned an antiques shop to kill Roberts in return for $10,000. A judge sentenced Phillips to life in prison. She has since appealed her sentence.
Police have never believed that Phillips, 69, frail and supposedly suffering from breast cancer, acted alone in killing Roberts, and the hunt for that second person has been ongoing.
Phillips’ son, William Hunter Stephens, serving prison time for drug and identity theft, admitted in court documents that he was a suspect but was never charged in the case. No one, Caddell said, has been eliminated as a person of interest.
Caddell called Roberts’ slaying “probably one of the more extensive and costly cases in our department’s history, certainly since I’ve been here.”
“David and I, nor our family, have ever wavered in our determination to help the police department find out who helped Julia kill our father,” Ronnie Roberts, Melvin Roberts’ youngest son, told reporters. “We will see this to the end. I don’t care where the culprits are, we’re going to find them.”
Investigators don’t suspect the culprits are in York, Caddell said.
“Citizens are safe and we don’t have a murderer” at large, he said, adding that police are centering their focus on Gaffney, where Phillips was raised and managed a boutique downtown and where Melvin Roberts owned property.
Police continue to receive tips on a second suspect. Police would not elaborate, but York Police Capt. Brian Trail said, “We’ve got new information leading us (in) a positive direction.”
Caddell said police last week received a “significant break.” Caddell told The Herald that police have submitted requests to Phillips’ attorneys to speak with the convicted killer for more information. By Friday, those requests had not been answered.
Still, Caddell said, “we’re probably more confident now than we have been in a while.”
On Friday, Ronnie Roberts said it had been four years, four months and nine days since his father was killed in the rain.
The Roberts brothers continue to provide police with any information they’re asked to give.
“I appreciate the community’s continued support in helping us ... get to the end of it,” Ronnie Roberts said.
“There seems like there’s a lot of momentum,” David Roberts said. “Everything’s kind of lining up. I feel good about where we are.”
If he could face Phillips, Ronnie Roberts said he would “simply ask her to clear her conscience and tell us what truly happened.”
“I firmly believe without her, my dad would still be alive,” David Roberts said. “She knows what happened. She knows.”
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082