Julia Phillips, 69, convicted killer of her boyfriend, former York Mayor Melvin Roberts, walked into court in her hometown of Gaffney at exactly 10:06 a.m. Tuesday.
She clinked as she walked.
“That sure isn’t designer jewelry anymore,” remarked a friend of Roberts, Diane Rayfield. She had testified at Phillips’ September murder trial about the conniving sneak who laughed and giggled and “thought she was at a party” at Roberts funeral.
“I don’t think handcuffs and leg irons are made from gold,” Rayfield said.
In two spectator seats, David Roberts and Ronnie Roberts, sons of Melvin Roberts, watched Phillips walk around the old courtroom.
“Wonder if she will even look at us,” said David Roberts.
Phillips looked only straight ahead. She knows the drill in court.
Phillips was walking into a courtroom down the street from where she once ran a clothing and cosmetics store. She was there for what might be her last court appearance ever.
Two months earlier, she was convicted by a York County jury of killing Roberts in 2010 in an attempt to keep him from changing his will – a will that would have left her the $150,000 building her store was in.
A judge sentenced Phillips to life in prison, and on Tuesday she had to face another judge.
This time it was because Phillips had not paid back more than $1,000 in restitution from a 2011 conviction for breach of trust. She had pleaded guilty to taking $2,000 in rent money from Roberts Realty apartments in Gaffney, was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay the cash back.
She came up more than $1,000 short.
That wasn’t all that unusual for Phillips. She owed creditors thousands at the time of her arrest and had run her store – which Roberts owned – into the ground. She had less than $3 in the store bank accounts when the cops swooped in and arrested her for murder.
To owe $1,087.46 is just another unpaid bill among a boxful of debts Phillips owes – including a debt to society with the price tag of sitting in prison until she dies.
But courts demand judicial orders, so Phillips was brought to court from a women’s prison in Columbia. She sat alone, the only woman among more than two dozen prisoners in chains. She sat with her legs crossed, silent.
Hers was the first case called.
Phillips stood because her lawyer asked her to come forward and the allegation was read.
Circuit Court Judge Keith Kelly asked Phillips if she admitted that she hadn’t paid restitution.
“Yes, sir,” was all she said.
Her lawyer, public defender Don Thompson, told the judge that the reporters covering Tuesday’s hearing were “vultures” for showing up for such a trivial matter. He did acknowledge that Phillips didn’t pay the restitution and can’t pay it because “she’s doing a life sentence.”
Thompson could have said the sentence was for murder, strangulation, for killing the boyfriend who had paid her bills for 10 years and was a defense lawyer for 55 years – but everybody in court knew that.
All of Gaffney and York knows Julia Phillips was convicted of plotting to kill Roberts, trying to hire a hit man, then carrying out the horrible crime. Even before court Tuesday, defendants in other cases milling outside, smoking cigarettes and waiting, asked what the cameras were for, then said, “Oh, yes, the old lady who killed her boyfriend.”
One woman awaiting trial for some small crime even asked in the courtroom: “Ya’ll here for a big murder case?”
Yes, she was told, this was the end of a big murder case: The murder of Melvin Roberts, the former mayor who was a lawyer for 55 years, during which he had defended accused killers right there in that same courtroom in Gaffney.
David Roberts asked to address the court. He told the judge that two weeks after his father was killed, Phillips was trying to steal rent money again.
It made no difference. The judge converted the owed restitution of $1,087.46 to a civil judgment against Phillips and the hearing was over. It took about five minutes.
Phillips walked out, led by a jailer the size of a professional wrestler, the chains clanging. She disappeared into a holding cell and likely will never come home to Gaffney again.
Police and prosecutors say that at least one other person helped Phillips with the killing, but have made no other arrests. The case remains open – but Phillips’ part is now officially closed.
Unless, one day, Phillips decides to name names.
Nobody knew how Phillips would act in court, or what she might say. That’s why Roberts’ sons were there.
“Everybody wanted to know what she would do or say, or if she would look at us,” David Roberts said after court. “That’s why I wanted this judge to know she was still up to her tricks, trying to steal from Dad – even after she killed him.”
The two sons of the dead man who had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and 10 years of his life on Phillips remarked how the prison clothes and shackles are the right look now for a convicted killer who again Tuesday refused to show any remorse for her crime.
Sitting with Roberts’ sons was retired York Police Chief Bill Mobley, who helped solve the murder and interviewed Phillips countless times as her stories changed like the cold breeze outside.
Mobley said he expected no looks or remorse from Phillips.
“It’s always all about her,” Mobley said. “Julia doesn’t care about anybody but herself.”
Ronnie Roberts said he can live without remorse from Julia Phillips after seeing her one last time.
“She will wear that prison garb until she dies,” Ronnie Roberts said. “And then she will burn in h---.”