Julia Phillips

Of course it is not unusual for a spouse or a significant other to murder or attempt to murder the other. Everyone knows that they are the first people that are looked at. This is still true no matter the age of the victim or suspect. But, this case was a bit different in many ways. The victim, Melvin Roberts, was seventy-nine years old, his girlfriend could have been about sixty-six at the time of his murder. I say could be because one of the articles I read indicated that no one knew for sure just how old she was but I calculated it by the age they stated at her death. The biggest thing that stands out in this case is that Julia Phillips would ultimately be convicted of accessory to commit murder but not only would she not be accused of committing the murder, authorities have never discovered who did.

As is often the case, defense attorney's have argued that the authorities used tunnel vision in their quest to solve the case of the murdered York South Carolina lawyer and former mayor. They would claim that investigators refused to look at anything that did not point in Julia's direction. Of course prosecutors deny this and claim that all evidence led to Julia from the beginning as being involved in the murder.

By February of 2010 Melvin Roberts and Julia Phillips had been a couple for about ten years. It was said that Melvin paid all of Julia's bills and had even bought a building for her to house a boutique. But, after all this time it seems the relationship was strained and Melvin was looking to get out. A friend of Julia's would testify at her trial that Julia had told her that Melvin had stopped given her money or paying her bills and would not have anything to do with her or even touch her. However, it does appear that on the night of February 4, 2010, Julia's birthday, the couple had been out together.

The couple returned home that rainy night and pulled into the driveway of Melvin's York home. It was there that Julia would claim that they were attacked by an unknown black or Hispanic male. When it was over Melvin would lay dead in his driveway. It appears that someone had shot “at” him as a piece of his clothing contained a bullet wound, but no bullet struck him. He had been hit over the head but his ultimate cause of death was strangulation. Julia would call 911 and claim that she had been held in the rain for up to an hour and a half while her head and wrists were duct taped but otherwise unharmed.

Investigators were suspicious from the start. According to the officers on the scene despite her claims of being out in the rain, Julia's clothing was not wet. On top of this the duct tape that was around her wrists to supposedly bound her was not tight and she could easily maneuver. This was definitely not an indication that the supposed attackers were trying to subdue her.

Three months after Melvin's murder Julia would be arrested and charged with accessory to murder. She would apparently also be charged with stealing thousands of dollars from Melvin before he died. She would be released on these charges on house arrest pending her trial. She would spend the three years on house arrest in the home she had been allowed to live in after the 1999 death of her former husband. Her former stepdaughters who technically owned the house quickly moved to have her evicted but the judge allowed her to stay pending her trial. The stepdaughters would also have their father's death re-examined. His body would be exhumed but I found nothing about the results, nor was Julia ever charged. There may have been more information surrounding his death and the results of the exhumation but Melvin's murder and Julia's trial would overshadow that issue.

Police did not believe, then, nor do they believe now that Julia was the actual perpetrator in Melvin's murder. She was simply too old, small and weak to have strangled him. At her trial in September of 2013 the prosecution would present a witness who would claim that Julia had attempted to hire him to kill Melvin at some time. As is always the case the defense argued that this witness had little credibility. Prosecutors would show the jury that before calling 911 to report the murder, Julia had called her son, William Stephens. Police looked at Stephens as a suspect in the slaying and at one point they arrested him on drug and fraud charges. Stephens maintains that that arrest and subsequent conviction were attempts by authorities to get information on Melvin's death. Either way authorities were never able to prove anything against Stephens. In the end they decided that his alibi checked out and so they knew he was not the actual murderer but they could not prove that he did not know what had happened. It seems to this day Stephens maintains he knew nothing of the crime or his mother's involvement or even if she was involved.

The jury was shown a series of interviews that Julia had given to the police in which her story seemed to change over time. Gun shot residue was found on her clothing which the prosecution stated showed she was near the gun when it was discharged. The defense argued no one knows how or when that GSR got on her clothing. Speaking of gunshots, there was another issue brought up at her trial. The defense hired a private investigator and he stated at the trial that when he went into the home of Melvin's after the murder he observed a bullet hole in the couch but he could not determine when it had been fired. When he was cross examined by the prosecution he also had to admit that he could not say with complete certainty that it was a bullet hole.

The defense put a few of Melvin's neighbors on the stand to testify of things they had seen in the time leading up to the murder. One stated he saw two men walking from a wooded area sometime that evening apparently. Another claimed to have seen a black Lincoln go into and out of Melvin's drive at a high rate of speed a few times the week leading up to the murder. While prosecutors argued that Julia committed the murder due to the fact that Melvin was cutting her out of his life and a fear that he would cut her out of his Will also which gave her the building housing her boutique, the defense argued that she continued to have money.

The jury apparently believed the prosecution theory. They saw the interviews that Julia did with the police when they asked her the critical questioned such as how was she able to talk to the prosecutor as she at one point claimed when she also claimed her mouth was covered with duct tape. The same held true when she gave a more detailed description of the perpetrator including hair style and body type when her eyes were said to be covered. I would also gander to guess they would ask her how she got the telephone and dialed it with her wrists tied. After a two week trial the jury convicted her. She was given a life sentence.

From the time of her conviction, until the time of her death in July 2016 Julia continued to maintain her innocence. It was said that after her death investigators planned to accompany prison officials in going through her things in her cell to see if anything could possibly lead them to the person or persons that had been involved in the crime. As far as I could tell this has not happened as of yet. Melvin Roberts' children are offering a $10,000 reward for this information.  


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