Jurors watch video of Julia Phillips police interview after - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Jurors watch video of Julia Phillips police interview after former Mayor's murder

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YORK, SC (WBTV) -

The jury deciding the fate of the woman accused in the killing of the former Mayor of York watched a video of the interview police conducted with Julia Phillips the night of the murder.

Phillips is accused of acting in an accomplice capacity in the strangulation of her boyfriend, Melvin Roberts - a well known attorney and the one-time York mayor.

Roberts was killed in 2010. His body was found outside his home. Phillips said at the time, the two were robbed.

If convicted, Phillips faces 30 years to life in prison.

During testimony on Wednesday, police told the jury that on the night Melvin Roberts was hit in the head then strangled, they considered Phillips a victim.

During her five hour interview with police, Phillips sometimes cried but didn't shed any tears. She answered police questions but then rambled on about a different topic.

When the interview started, a York Police lieutenant told Phillips he needed to take some pictures of her.

Phillips asked the lieutenant if the pictures were for "playboy."

Phillips said on the night of murder back in February 2010, she pulled her SUV into  Roberts' driveway.

She told police as she was getting out of her Explorer, a man jumped out and put his hands over eyes, duct taped her, and pulled her away from her SUV, and took her behind a wall.

Phillips said she never saw her alleged assailant. She told police the man had a soft voice and demanded money.

Phillips said he shoved her down to the ground.

During her interview with police, Phillips said she saw Melvin Roberts headlights come up the driveway. She said she heard him get out of the truck.

According to Phillips, there was a scuffle. She told police she heard what sounded like a pipe hitting the concrete, then a gunshot.

Phillips told police she heard Roberts groan.

Sara Robbins, a retired police officer who was a lieutenant with York Police at the time of Roberts' murder, testified that Phillips had duct tape on her body and some bruises. But she said Phillips never requested medical attention.

Robbins told the jury that Phillips was calm, that a couple of times she broke down and cried, but also joked and asked if her pictures "were for playboy."

During questioning by Assistant Solicitor Kris Hodge, who is prosecuting  the case, Robbins said she took Phillips' jeans and two blouses as potential evidence in the investigation.

Robbins told jurors it rained the night of the murder but Phillips' clothing was "damp - not a lot of wetness." She said there was little mud at the bottom of Phillips' blue jeans.

Robbins testified that the day after the murder police brought in a sketch artist but Phillips wasn't able to give a description of the attacker, and kept changing the details.

Solicitor Hodge introduced evidence that showed before Phillips called 9-1-1 to report the attack, she made two other phone calls with a minute and half.

During her police interview, Phillips said she tried twice to call 9-1-1 but the call wouldn't connect.

A sergeant with the York County Sheriff's Office K-9 unit testified he responded to the murder scene and went to the edge of the woods - onto a trail - with his blood hound that is trained to track scents.

Sgt. Randy Clinton told jurors his saw slide marks, heel impressions, toe digs, and foot prints going away from the house.

Sgt Clinton said he also saw footprints going towards Roberts' house.

He said the foot prints going to and from the house belonged to the same person.

Investigators believe Phillips conspired with an unknown assailant in the attack on Roberts.

Prosecutors painted a picture of Julia Phillips as a woman who was desperate and out for money when it came to 79-year-old Melvin Roberts.

Solicitor Hodge told jurors during her opening statements that Phillips changed her story several times and was inconsistent.

However, defense attorney Bobby Frederick said Phillips was hysterical and upset at the time she was questioned. He explained the inconsistencies as part of her "odd" personality, but not part of a murder cover-up.

He said there is no DNA or fingerprints connecting Phillips to the crime.

Hodge said much of the evidence would be circumstantial. For example, she said Phillips was motivated to "act quickly" because Roberts was ending the relationship, which also meant the end of his financial support.

On Monday, seven women and five men were selected to serve as jurors. The pool was whittled down from 250 potential jurors. Three alternates were also chosen.

Phillips' defense attorney, argued two of the selected jurors should be dismissed because one volunteers in the Solicitor's Office and the other juror's mother once worked with Roberts.

The judge denied the request saying the answer the jurors provided proved they could be impartial. Several other pre-trial motions made by Frederick were also denied including details the prosecution says proves a motive behind the murder. Late Monday, Frederick told the judge he thought Phillips no longer understood the proceedings. Judge Derham Cole gave Frederick the chance to call a mental health professional to evaluate Phillips.

He was unable to reach anyone before court recessed for the day. Phillips bail bondsman was a no show and it was also found that Phillips' electronic monitoring bracelet had a dead battery. The judge ordered Phillips remain in custody until the device was charged.

"It's going to be a very difficult and emotional week for all of us," David Roberts said. "I know the police have done a fantastic job…they've worked hard…now it's up to the prosecutors to do their job but there's been a tremendous amount of effort put out for dad and you just have to believe in the justice system."

Roberts was a popular defense attorney for a half century, and served on York city council in the 1960s. He was elected to a 2-year term as mayor in 1972, and then lost a 1976 run for the South Carolina Senate.

Because of Roberts' professional and personal relationships with many local judges, the South Carolina Supreme Court appointed a Circuit Judge Derham Cole from Spartanburg to preside over the murder trial in York County to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. At about 7:30 p.m. February 4, 2010, the York Police Department received a call from a woman who told the 911 operator she had been robbed at 214 Roberts Avenue, where Roberts lived.

When officers arrived, they found Roberts dead in the driveway behind his home. Police say he had been assaulted, suffering head trauma, and that he had a "plastic tie around his neck". Julia Phillips was the woman who had called 911.

In a statement that night, Julia Phillips told police she had been assaulted and bound by duct tape, and then dragged behind a wall approximately 60 feet away from where Roberts was found. Phillips told police she was able to free herself and call for help.

Investigators said her clothes were not wet or dirty, despite the fact it was raining that night. Investigators also said her purse was found in an upright position. It was open and undisturbed, while the victim's wallet was still in his pants pocket and nothing was missing.

These facts appeared to police to dispute Phillips' claim that the attack was part of a robbery. According to the police report, the woman appeared to have been bound with duct tape on three areas on her body.

But the arrest warrant for Julia Phillips said while she did have duct tape on her, there was none found on her skin.

"The duct taping job was very questionable," York Police Chief William Mobley said at the time. Phillips consented to have her clothes taken by state investigators for analysis. They found gunshot residue on her clothes and on the sleeves of her blouse.

Investigators say they means she couldn't have been more the 10-12 feet away from Roberts when he was shot. An autopsy showed Roberts' was not actually hit by a bullet, but a hole was found in the jacket and collar of his shirt. Phillips told investigators that her clothes had recently been cleaned and that she hadn't fired a gun in many years.

The woman told police her attacker was a male between 5'9" and 5'11", approximately 200-240 pounds and that he spoke with an accent. Phillips was arrested later near her store "Julia's Cosmetics" in Gaffney. She appeared in court for a bond hearing a few hours later, but bond was denied.

Investigators said Phillips had been a suspect all along, but they had to develop the evidence for a warrant. As the case moved forward, Phillips' lawyer claimed she was not mentally competent to understand the charges against her.

In December 2012, Phillips underwent a mental evaluation and was found competent to stand trial. Phillips has been under house arrest, on electronic monitoring, since her arrest. She has been allowed to leave the home only to meet with her lawyer and attend church on Sunday.

At a bond revocation hearing in July, Phillips' lawyer admitted she had violated those conditions and left her home to buy groceries and medicine. Judge Derham Cole reminded Phillips she could not do whatever she wanted while under house arrest, but ultimately said "I do not find that the violations as presently presented are such that require revocation of bond."

Judge Cole told Phillips any further violations would result in her being sent to jail to await trial. Opening arguments are expected to being at 9:30 Tuesday morning.

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