Criminal Justice

2nd S.C. Lawyer Is Killed in 2 Days; Was His Slaying Also Case-Related?

Within a day after a 61-year-old Pickens, S.C., lawyer was shot and killed outside his office Wednesday, apparently in connection with a divorce matter, another South Carolina lawyer was killed at his York home last night.

Authorities haven’t stated how Melvin Roberts, who was nearly 80, died. Police are investigating to determine whether the assailant, who lay in wait for Roberts after tying up and assaulting his live-in girlfriend at their home, was an angry client, reports WCNC.

Roberts arrived home around 7:30 p.m., according to the Associated Press. His assailant is unknown and is apparently still being sought.

The crimes are unrelated but have shaken members of the state’s 10,000-member bar. Attorney Jack Swerling of Columbia worked with Roberts last year on a winning murder trial and also attended law school at the University of South Carolina, three decades ago, with the victim of the other attorney slaying, J. Redmond Coyle. And, in another shared experience, Swerling says he and his wife and daughter were tied up in their home in 2002 by a man he had once represented, who was looking for money. No one was injured, and the ex-client got a life sentence, the news agency reports.

Roberts, who was remembered by colleagues as a fierce courtroom opponent and a good friend once the hearing was concluded, “was always prepared,” says Swerling. “He would spend weekends in his office before a trial. This is a guy who is 79. He was the consummate lawyer. He was tenacious in representing his clients.”

A popular civil and criminal lawyer known for working seven days a week and winning a lot of cases, he served on the York City Council in the 1960s and was also mayor for two years in the 1970s, according to the Charlotte Observer.

“Melvin Roberts in a courtroom was dynamic,” current York Mayor Eddie Lee tells the newspaper. “He did many favors for folks.”

The Herald provides the full text of a York police statement earlier today on the Roberts case.

The man who shot J. Redmond Coyle outside his office on Wednesday, in front of his wife and child, committed suicide afterward. He had faced a contempt hearing for failing to pay $50,000 to his ex-wife, who was represented by Coyle, for her share of their home, the AP reports.

“When lawyers lose their lives because they have been a formidable and effective advocate, our entire system of justice is threatened,” says South Carolina Bar President Fred W. Suggs Jr. in a written statement.

A funeral for Roberts is set for 2 p.m. ET Monday, at First Presbyterian Church in York, the Herald reports.

Last updated Feb. 8 to include the time of the funeral.

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