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Police search Gaffney home of girlfriend charged in slaying for former York mayor

Investigators spent hours Thursday searching the Gaffney home of the girlfriend of slain former York Mayor Melvin Roberts, nine days after she was charged with murder.

The search is the latest development in the investigation of Julia Phillips, who is charged in connection with the Feb. 4 strangling death of Roberts, a renowned lawyer in York for 55 years who also owned other businesses in York and Gaffney.

It remains unclear what was taken from Phillips' home at 701 Overbrook Drive in Gaffney. However, York Police Chief Bill Mobley confirmed Friday that officers, using a search warrant, took evidence in connection with Phillips' status as the defendant in Roberts' murder case.

Officers from the York and Gaffney police departments and the State Law Enforcement Division conducted the search, Mobley said.

"Officers searched the house, recovered some items, and these items will be sent to SLED for forensics," he said.

The arrest of Phillips, 66, outside her Gaffney clothing store on May 18 came more than three months after Roberts, 79, was strangled outside his York home.

Phillips told police the day Roberts died that she had been robbed and bound by an intruder outside Roberts' home where she had often stayed for years.

Police said investigators suspected her story was a hoax from the outset.

The search Thursday took several hours and involved two warrants, said Det. Jonathan Blackwell of the Gaffney Police Department, one of the officers who conducted the search.

One of the warrants also is part of an investigation of Phillips on a breach of trust charge in Gaffney from two weeks after Roberts died, Blackwell said.

In court documents and arrest warrants, investigators allege that Phillips collected $2,000 in cash rent payments over several months from the tenant in an apartment belonging to the real estate company owned by Melvin Roberts and his family.

An arrest warrant in that case was signed by a judge Feb. 19 but never served because of the ongoing murder investigation, Gaffney police have said.

Phillips, who remains in custody at the York County jail, had financial problems before Roberts was killed, court documents show, including defaulting on a bill to a clothing company of more than $2,700.

Roberts sent a letter to at least two of Phillips' creditors in late 2008, saying he would no longer be responsible for debts at her Gaffney store, called Julia's. The store is in the only building Phillips would have received from Roberts' estate after his death, according to Roberts' will.

Phillips was widowed in 1999. She was given use - but not ownership - of the home in Gaffney until she either remarried or died, according to Cherokee County court documents obtained Friday by The Herald.

Although Phillips often stayed at Roberts' home in York before he was killed, the Gaffney home is Phillips' address on the arrest warrant in the murder case. It is also the address of her son, William Hunter Stephens, 46.

Stephens was arrested Tuesday on unrelated traffic charges and also faces older drug charges. Stephens remains in jail in Gaffney. However, Mobley said the search warrants executed Thursday were pertaining to Julia Phillips as the sole defendant in the Roberts killing.

"The son happens to live in that particular residence," Mobley said. "He is the son of the defendant."

Julia Phillips' lawyer, Bobby Frederick of Myrtle Beach, could not be reached for comment Friday about the search of his client's home. Frederick has asked for a bond hearing for Phillips but no court date has been scheduled.

Judge Derham Cole of Spartanburg has been assigned the case because of Roberts' connections to York County judges.