Defense asks judge for non-York County jury in Phillips' murder trial

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comAugust 26, 2013 

Julia Phillips arrives at Moss Justice Center in York Monday morning for her trial on charges of murder in the strangling of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts.

The Gaffney woman charged with murder in the strangling of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts has filed a last-minute request to bring in jurors from outside York County for her trial.

Bobby Frederick, the attorney for Julia Phillips, said he filed the motion mostly because of pre-trial media coverage.

Whether the motion is approved or not depends on answers members of the York County jury pool give to Circuit Court Judge Derham Cole after he qualifies them.

Frederick said he did not recommend in his motion from what county the substitute jurors should come.

Jury selection and qualification began Monday morning with 97 potential jurors reporting. Phillips arrived at the Moss Justice Center at 8 a.m.

"She's good," Frederick said of his client. "We're ready to move" forward on the trial.

Roberts, 79, who practiced law in York County for 55 years, was strangled in the driveway of his York home in February 2010. Phillips, who lived with Roberts for about 10 years, was arrested and charged with murder in May 2010.

Phillips – who is either 68 or 72, according to conflicting court documents – told police the day of the killing that she had been bound and robbed on the day of the killing.

Detectives at the time of her arrest said her story was a hoax, citing gunshot residue on her clothes despite telling authorities she had not fired a weapon in weeks.

Phillips also claimed to have been attacked outdoors by an unidentified black or Hispanic man, yet police said her clothes were not wet and no money was missing.

Prosecutors later said Phillips’ motive for the crime was money, as Roberts had planned to end the relationship and all financial support for Phillips and her clothing business in Gaffney.

Phillips already has pleaded guilty to another felony charge of stealing $2,000 in rent money from Roberts’ realty company around the same time as the killing.

Investigators also have stated that police do not believe Phillips worked alone in the killing, but no one else has been charged.

Phillips has said since her arrest that she did not kill Roberts, and her lawyer has said she was too small and too frail to have done it. She has been held on house arrest bond since shortly after her arrest.

Because area judges and prosecutors knew Roberts, prosecutors from Greenville and a judge from Spartanburg are handling the trial.

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