Julia Phillips begins life sentence in prison after murder convi - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Julia Phillips begins life sentence in prison after murder conviction

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YORK COUNTY, SC (WBTV) -

Julia Phillips has begun serving her life sentence.

The York County Sheriff's Office tells WBTV "she has already been transferred to the State Department of Correction facility in Columbia."

Friday morning, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office said Phillips "left this morning." Trent Farris said "we didn't have any issues with her last night."

Phillips was in an evaluation area at the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia on Friday afternoon, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

The facility is maximum security prison for women.

Thursday evening, a York County jury found Phillips guilty in the murder of her boyfriend and former York mayor, who was killed in 2010.

Julia Phillips was arrested in 2010 and charged with murder in the death of Melvin Roberts. Phillips lived with Roberts - who was a long time lawyer.

Phillips was facing 30 years to life.

Defense Attorney Bobby Frederick asked the Judge to give Phillips the minimum sentence.

Frederick told the Judge that "30 years is a life sentence" for Phillips, who relatives say is 73 years old.

The Judge decided Phillips "will be confined (to prison) for the rest of her natural life."

Phillips has the right to appeal.

In February 2010, investigators said Roberts was found on his property with a head wound and strangled. Investigators say there was a bullet hole in Roberts' clothing - but the bullet didn't hit Roberts.

Phillips told police a stranger robbed her, tied her up, shoved her down in the mud, then attacked Roberts. Phillips said she heard a scuffle and a gunshot. But police say Phillips had gunshot residue on her.

Detectives say the evidence showed that Phillips was working with an accomplice, and arrested her three months later.

After 6 days of testimony, more than 30 witnesses, and over 100 pieces of evidence - the jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon.

After a couple hours of sorting through the evidence, jurors came back with a question about levels of guilt and burden of proof.

Then, they reached a verdict Thursday evening.

One juror told WBTV "it was the inconsistencies of her story. The conclusion with the evidence they presented - it just didn't match. There was a lot of holes in it. It didn't add up."

Craig Bennett said his fellow jurors were serious while deliberating. He said it wasn't a quick verdict.

"No. We all had our questions that we needed answered. And we all went around and answered each other's questions and gave our opinion" Bennett said. "It took about six hours of constantly asking questions and going through every detail and getting down to the meat and potatoes of the subject."

Bennett said jurors got "rid of the fluff that didn't even matter to the case - and just kind of digging in as deep as we could on it to find out what our conclusion was going to be."

The victims' sons cried as the guilty verdict was read.

Ronnie Roberts, giving a victim impact statement, said "dad wasn't killed because he had done anything wrong. He was killed for greed. She wouldn't tell us who did it. The nightmare continues."

Before she was sentenced, Phillips told the Judge "I too want to find out who did this."

In a loud clear voice, Phillips said "I trust in God. I know I'm going to heaven... God will see me through."

Because Roberts was well known in the legal community in York, Assistant Solicitor Kris Hodge was brought in from an outside county to prosecute the case.

After Phillips was sentenced, Hodge told WBTV "I'm feeling great. I feel relieved. The jury listened to the evidence intently. They did what they were supposed to do. I feel like justice has been served. A sign of relief all the way around."

Closing arguments were heard Thursday morning.

Shortly after Phillips walked in the court room on Thursday, her attorney told jurors that investigators rushed to judgement.

Attorney Frederick says the only reason Phillips was charged was because Roberts was a prominent local attorney and former mayor. He said there was no direct evidence linking Phillips to the murder.

Frederick told the jury that investigators were feeling pressured and had to arrest someone.

"She didn't act right so they charged her and they punted" Attorney Frederick said. "They punted to lawyers, to the prosecutor's office."

But prosecutors told the jury they had a mound of evidence, and Phillips' "inconsistent statements didn't match the evidence."

They said Phillips had everything in life paid for by Roberts and she was afraid Roberts was ending the relationship and cutting her off.

Assistant Solicitor Hodge said money drove Phillips to murder.

"She is a very cunning, very manipulative, very greedy, very desperate, lying, scheming, murderous woman. Don't be fooled by the package" Hodge said during closing arguments.

The prosecution again showed jurors some of Phillips' interview with police hours after the murder.

She reminded the jury of how many times Phillips changed her story and her description of the attacker.

Hodge said there was no reasonable explanation as to why Phillips had gunshot residue. She said if Phillips did one thing to help in the murder – she was guilty.

"Whether it was stand there and be a distraction, whether it was hold the gun, fire a gun, watch as someone else fired the gun, go behind the wall and throw the bank bag, tape herself up, make a fake 9-1-1 call. If you find she find she did one of those things on this night – she is guilty of accomplice to murder" Hodge said.

The prosecution rested on Tuesday and the defense rested just a day later, after saying Phillips would not testify in the trial.

Before the jury came in the room, the judge asked Julia Phillips about testifying. This was the first time she spoke out loud in the courtroom.

She stood up and said "I've been up since 4 o'clock this morning praying and I believe that in all my interest, best thing for me to do is not to, sir."

The judge asked if she made the decision not to testify - and she said yes, adding "I grew up a Christian. I am a Christian. My most confidence is in God not the courtroom."

In all, the prosecution called more than 20 witnesses before resting its case.

That's when the defense made a motion for a directed verdict, saying there was a failure to present sufficient evidence.

Attorneys said the only thing prosecutors have is a witness who claims Julia tried to hire him to kill Melvin Roberts - but that witness didn't kill him.  They also only have small traces of gunshot residue on Phillips' blouse that could have come from different locations.

Prosecutors say 12 different witnesses testified about her inconsistent statements. They say her clothes were not wet.

A forensic scientist testified that there was some gunshot residue on Phillips' blouse.

He showed jurors Roberts' jacket with the bullet hole – the expert said the killer pointed the gun directly on Roberts clothes. Prosecutors say the gunshot residue on Phillips' blouse shows that she wasn't behind a wall, as she claimed - but was close to the gun when it was fired.

The prosecution said Phillips intended to murder Roberts because of a financial motive.

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