Son of woman accused of killing ex-York mayor claims arrests part of murder probe

adys@heraldonline.comAugust 29, 2012 

— The Gaffney man questioned by police in the death of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts before his mother was charged with the killing claims his incarceration on drug charges was “possibly” to interrogate him further in Roberts’ death, court records show.

William Hunter Stephens, 48, in jail in Cherokee County since January on drug and fraud charges, is the son of Julia Phillips, Roberts’ longtime live-in girlfriend. Phillips was charged in May 2010 for the February 2010 strangling death of Roberts, 79, outside his York home.

Stephens – with past convictions for obtaining property under false pretenses, check fraud, drugs and other crimes according to State Law Enforcement Division records – alleges Cherokee County prosecutors also had a conflict of interest because they knew Roberts.

Stephens has not been charged in connection with Roberts’ death – but his mother’s lawyer claimed in court that he was initially the target of the police probe.

Circuit Court Judge Roger Couch of Spartanburg, citing “an abundance of caution,” issued an order recusing Cherokee County prosecutors from the Stephens case and assigning it to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Allen Myrick, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said Wednesday no court dates have been set.

Stephens is alleged to have distributed prescription drugs, using his brother’s identity and the identity of his mother’s late husband to illegally get prescriptions, cable television service and two credit cards.

His lawyer in the drug case, William Luse, wrote in the court filing that the pharmacy case happened in 2008, but police did not issue a warrant until May 2010 – a week after Julia Phillips was arrested.

“In the case at hand,” Luse wrote, “the approximately two-year delay is important because the defendant was only indicted for a drug charge after the State believed the defendant was part of the alleged murder of Melvin Roberts.”

Luse alleges an “appearance” that the drug charge came only after “the defendant was suspected of murder, and possibly to use his incarceration on the drug charge as an opportunity to repeatedly interrogate the defendant regarding the murder of Melvin Roberts.”

Neither Luse nor Michael Berry, the public defender representing Stephens in the fraud cases who joined in Stephens’ claims, could be reached for comment.

York Police said Wednesday the investigation into the killing of Melvin Roberts remains under investigation but declined to talk about who has been interviewed.

“We are not eliminating anyone as a suspect and are looking at all options and following up on all leads,” Capt. Brian Trail said.

Police said in an October 2010 court hearing that witnesses put Stephens in Gaffney at the time Roberts was killed. Phillips made up a story about being robbed the day Roberts was killed and did not work alone in the killing, but no other arrests have been made, police said.

Det. Billy Mumaw of the York Police Department said in 2010 that Phillips made two calls to Stephens’ phone on Feb. 4, 2010, before Phillips called police to report a robbery outside Roberts’ home. Police now believe that call was bogus.

Phillips has been on house arrest for more than two years pending trial. Her lawyers recently claimed she is not competent to stand trial, and a judge has ordered mental testing. Stephens lived with Phillips in Gaffney before he was jailed.

Authorities have alleged in court Phillips had financial motives to kill Roberts and spoke to people before the killing about how to cover up a murder. Last year, Phillips pleaded guilty to felony breach of trust after stealing $2,000 in rent from Roberts’ realty company.

The murder case against Phillips is being handled by a Spartanburg judge and Greenville prosecutors because local prosecutors and judges knew Roberts, who practiced law in York for 55 years.

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065

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