Phillips admits to stealing from man she's accused of killing

06/28/2011 12:00 AM

06/28/2011 2:30 PM

GAFFNEY The woman charged in the killing of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts has admitted to stealing $2,000 from him.

Julia Phillips, 67, of Gaffney pleaded guilty to breach of trust in a Cherokee County courtroom Monday afternoon.

Prosecutors claim Phillips’ theft from her 79-year-old boyfriend – who supported her financially for years – was a possible motive in his 2010 killing.

Circuit Court Judge Edward Miller sentenced Phillips to five years in prison but suspended the sentence.

Instead of going to prison, Phillips will be on probation for five years and must pay back the money she stole. If she pays it back, her probation will end after three years.

“This is part of the process and a good step today,” Roberts’ son, David Roberts, said after the hearing. “We’ll work tirelessly until we get justice for our father.

“It’s a hard thing for two families. There won’t be any winners in this. Both families lose. We lost our father, and we’re still hurting.”

Monday was the first day since her bond hearings a year ago that Phillips has appeared in court instead of sending attorneys in her place.

She said just a few words – “Yes, sir,” and, “No, sir,” – in response to the judge’s questions about her plea.

Phillips was charged with murder in May 2010 in connection with the Feb. 4, 2010, strangulation death of Roberts, her boyfriend of a decade.

Roberts died after being strangled with a zip tie outside his York home. He was also hit over the head and shot at.

Phillips initially told police she was a victim in that assault, but investigators have said her story doesn’t fit the evidence. They also have said they don’t believe she acted alone in the killing, but no one else has been charged.

Melvin Roberts was a longtime lawyer in York whose death stunned people in the city he worked and lived in for 55 years.

In court Monday, Phillips admitted to fraud-related charges that accused her of taking rent money from a tenant in a Gaffney building Melvin Roberts’ realty company owned and not giving the money to the company.

Prosecutors have claimed Phillips knew Roberts was leaving her and she had “every reason to believe” he would write her out of his will.

Roberts also owned the building where her consignment business was located – a building Phillips stood to inherit after Roberts’ death, according to Roberts’ will. The building is worth at least $150,000.

Gaffney Police Detective Jonathan Blackwell testified in a previous court hearing that investigators found a pattern in which Phillips collected rent from tenants in buildings Roberts owned, wrote receipts, but did not deposit rents with Roberts Realty, a York-based company.

The breach-of-trust charge stems from one apartment in Roberts Apartments in downtown Gaffney. Police found evidence that five months’ worth of rent, dating back to fall 2009, was paid in cash by the tenant of an apartment that the realty company had no record of being occupied, Blackwell said.

Phillips was responsible for finding tenants for the apartment complex and collecting rent. However, she was not paid as an employee of the company.

Tenants reported that they tried to pay with checks, but Phillips would only accept cash. Roberts Realty never saw any of those $400 cash payments.

Earlier this month, Phillips was indicted on the murder charge by a York County grand jury. She remained out of jail on bond for the last year awaiting this case and prosecution in the murder. No trial date has been set.

Phillips’ attorney, Bobby Frederick, said in court Monday his client will need help from family to pay back the stolen money, since she can’t work while on house arrest.

Roberts’ sons said they didn’t expect Phillips to be sentenced to prison in the case.

Ronnie Roberts said he’s pleased that investigators continue to search for possible accomplices.

“If anyone else is involved, we want them apprehended,” he said. “We don’t believe her story about being tied up.

“I’m not sure she could do this alone, but we don’t know.”

Kimberly Dick 803-329-4082

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