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Trials & Litigation

Did longtime girlfriend plot to kill 79-year-old lawyer?

Posted Sep 3, 2013 3:40 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Julia Phillips may not have acted alone. But she was part of a plot to kill her longtime boyfriend, South Carolina attorney and York Mayor Melvin Roberts, 79, who was beaten, shot and strangled to death in his driveway in February 2010, prosecutors say.

The state says Phillips, now 69 and charged with murder, acted out of desperation, seeking to preserve what she could of the comfortable lifestyle Roberts provided for her. He paid for her car, credit cards, vacations, medical expenses and business losses from the clothing store he owned and she operated, as well as the prescription drugs to which prosecutors say she had become addicted, reports the Herald. Another Herald story provides additional details.

A $60,000 loss from the clothing store prompted Roberts to pull out of the venture, and, as Phillips knew, he was planning to end their 10-year relationship and cut her off financially, according to the government's theory of the case. A store employee testified that she'd heard Phillips tell her son that Roberts had taken her credit cards and was seeing another woman. Under Roberts' will, Phillips stood to inherit $150,000 in property after his death.

Bolstering the state's largely circumstantial case against her, authorities say gunshot residue was found on Phillips clothing—which, despite her claim of having been shoved to the muddy ground by the assailant who attacked Roberts, was clean and dry when police arrived, the articles recount.

Her lawyer, Bobby Frederick, acknowledges that Phillips wasn't the greatest businesswoman. But her need for attention and penchant for exaggeration are a consistent part of her personality and fuel the rambling conversational style that police found suspicious, he suggested.

The trial, which began last week in York, is being conducted by an out-of-county prosecutor in front of an out-of-county judge.

See also:

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

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