Phillips in denial right to the end

Herald columnistSeptember 5, 2013 

— Right to the end, Julia Phillips made sure it was still all about Julia Phillips

Facing the rest of her life in a jail cell no larger than a closet, the 69-year-old admitted prescription pain pill junkie – convicted of the most serious crime in a courthouse of thieves, burglars, scoundrels and villains – talked about herself.

Only Phillips could sit at the defense table and hear a court clerk say, “The verdict is guilty,” and not even uncross her legs.

Then, incredibly, she thanked the judge for the most severe sentence allowed under the law – life in prison, no parole.

It was unclear if her stoneface and lack of tears for herself or anybody else – and that surely includes her dead boyfriend, former York Mayor Melvin Roberts – amounted to concern.

Or nerves.

Or prescription narcotics she took as a habit for years.

Or an act.

She had been convicted of acting for 43 months and one day.

The curtain fell without an encore.

Still, Phillips accepted no responsibility. She denied all. She will die in jail, but she believes she is going to heaven.

She said she wants to know the truth about the killing – despite a jury telling her that she certainly hadn’t told the truth about the killing and that they believed set the whole thing up in a greedy scheme.

More than three years after she claimed to have been a victim herself the night Roberts was brutally strangled with a plastic zip tie, Phillips still claimed she wasn’t guilty of anything more serious than love.

She said she felt as badly as Roberts’ two sons, who lost a father.

As always, it’s always about Julia Phillips.

She did not flinch when the jury agreed she was what prosecutors called her hours: a “cunning, manipulative, greedy, lying, stealing, murderous woman.”

The real-life femme fatale – the “ice queen,” as Roberts himself once called her – just plain refused to accept anything.

She was described by her own lawyer as attention-seeking and unable to keep a story straight even if her life was on the line – which it surely was.

She gave at least plenty of inconsistent statements to police. Just an hour after her boyfriend of 10 years was killed, she asked police if the pictures they were taking of her alleged injuries would be published in Playboy magazine.

Not once during hours of police interviews after Roberts was murdered did she shed a tear.

There were plenty of tears in court Thursday after the verdict was read, though.

The tears came from the dead man’s sons and sisters, friends and others who loved tough, gruff, boisterous Melvin Roberts in his 55 years of practicing law and his stretch as mayor of York.

Before sentencing, Circuit Court Judge Derham Cole asked Phillips if she had something to say.

She stood and did not cry. She just talked about herself. She apologized for nothing.

Julia Phillips told the court she appreciated its work, despite being convicted in less than four hours by a jury that had withstood eight excruciating days of trial.

Then, she said, “I, too, want to know who did this.”

“This” was apparently the murder that she is now convicted of plotting with an assassin who still is uncaught and unidentified.

Phillips had a chance – right after her conviction and before her sentencing – to blurt out who helped her kill Roberts. Instead, she kept saying she had nothing to do with it.

She turned toward Ronnie and David Roberts, the sons of Melvin Roberts, and said she hoped they had it in their hearts to not hate her.

“I’m sorry they had to go through this as much as they have,” she said.

David Roberts shook his head and wiped away tears. He was forgiving no woman convicted of killing his father.

Ronnie Roberts shook with silent rage at the audacity of this woman, who now claimed now, for the first time in 43 months and a day, to mourn for a man she was convicted of killing.

“The b---- is finally going to jail,” Ronnie Roberts said under his breath.

He would say that out loud soon afterward, and he didn’t care who heard him.

Still, Phillips continued. She said she really was lying there bloody and crying and cold that February night in 2010, although evidence showed she was not.

“I stood there in the rain,” she claimed, despite having been found in clothes that were scarcely wet, with almost no mud on them.

She claimed to “care about people,” despite having been convicted of killing the one man who paid for her life and lifestyle for a decade but just before he died had cut her off financially.

She said she “loved Melvin Roberts,” as a courtroom seemed to shake its collective head back and forth, finding it impossible to believe she would actually say the words.

She looked toward the prosecutor brought in from Greenville, Kris Hodge, and said, “You made some really bad lies.”

Hodge stood silently, just a hint of a smile on her face. For more than two years, Hodge had hunted a killer and now she had bagged one named Julia Phillips.

“I have no hatred in my heart,” Phillips said.

She rambled on about trusting God.

She did not mention the $150,000 building in Roberts’ will that was the motive for killing.

She did not mention Guy Blankenship, the admitted criminal and police informant who also fills people’s faces with silicone on the black market. He testimony was outlandish and thrilling – and utterly believable.

Blankenship claimed loudly and with style that Phillips solicited him and others to kill Roberts for money. Jurors apparently believed every word of it, despite Phillips’ lawyer saying in his closing argument that Blankenship is a paid liar and “a maggot wriggling in my sandwich.”

This man – who testified that some of his life revolves around activities that range from fraud to getting paid by cops to buy dope, who captivated this trial like maybe no other witness ever – said being called a “maggot” by Phillips’ lawyer does not bother him in the least.

“No, really, I’ve been described as worse,” Blankenship said outside the courtroom. “He should feel like a maggot, since he’s defending somebody who put a zip tie around somebody’s neck and choked the life out of him.”

After Phillips was convicted, Blankenship said, in what was likely his only quiet statement, “I did my part.”

There are two courtrooms in Moss Justice Center.

In that other courtroom – between Aug. 26, when the trial started, and Thursday – criminals pleaded guilty to 132 charges and received hundreds of years of combined jail terms. Nobody but them, and maybe family members, noticed.

Police in York County brought 190 new felony charges against new defendants just in the past 10 days.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, just after the verdict came, a lady rushed by who had been visiting her son in jail.

She did not ask about the Phillips trial. Her tears said all that needed to be said about what mattered to her.

Inside the building, cops found a guy who reported for court had another warrant pending against him. The guy showed up hopeful and left in handcuffs.

He did not ask about Julia Phillips.

The court spoke all it needed to about Phillips, who called her boyfriend “Mr. Roberts” in court after being convicted of killing him. Like he was a postman who dropped by each day instead of the guy she shared a life with for 10 years as he paid all her bills.

At the end it was Judge Cole’s turn.

“Your sentence is to be confined for the rest of your natural life.”

Phillips replied, simply, “Thank you.”

Two bailiffs then motioned Phillips toward a holding cell.

“What do I do now?” Phillips asked.

“You go with the sheriffs,” the judge said, staring straight at her.

Then she left through a detention pen door to begin her life sentence.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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