Commentary

Hearing that would have reunited convicted killer Julia Phillips with her son in court is canceled

adys@heraldonline.comOctober 24, 2013 

Julia Phillips in court at the Moss Justice Center in York Wednesday for the seventh day of her murder trial.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com

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    Go to heraldonline.com to read The Herald’s coverage of the killing of Melvin Roberts and Julia Phillips’ trial.

The lawyer for convicted killer Julia Phillips withdrew her appeal of a court ruling concerning his claims to a home Friday afternoon, canceling what would have been a reunion of the 68-year-old woman serving life in prison for the strangling death of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts with her son.

Phillips' lawyer Charles Marchbanks Jr., said he decided to withdraw the appeal of a 2010 probate court temporary injunction that evicted Phillips from the home of her late husband, Bryant Phillips.

David Massey, the lawyer for Phillips' stepdaughters who sued to have Phillips and her son evicted, confirmed the hearing was cancelled.

The hearing would have reunited Phillips with her son, William Hunter Stephens, who also is in jail.

No date has been set for the case to be heard again in civil court.

But Phillips is still scheduled to be in court Nov. 12 to face allegations of probation violation. Phillips pleaded guilty in 2011 to stealing $2,000 in rent from Melvin Roberts and was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay restitution. She allegedly is now $900 in arrears and faces another court hearing about why she did not pay up.

Phillips, 68, lived with Melvin Roberts for 10 years. He paid all her bills, but she was convicted in September of killing him over a $150,000 building listed in his will. Prosecutors showed Phillips plotted the scheme, even trying to hire hit men, because Roberts planned to cut off all money, throw her out, and change the will to leave her destitute.

Judge Derham Cole, who was set to handle the appeal Monday, sentenced Phillips to life in prison last month for her role in Roberts’ death. Earlier, Cole also had sentenced Stephens, 50, after he admitted forging painkiller prescriptions to pay for his addiction to painkillers and anti-depressants.

Testimony in the murder trial showed she and her son took tens of thousands of dollars that Melvin Roberts had provided for a clothing business and spent it in drug dens and on backroom dope deals to feed their habits.

The victims of Hunter Stephens’ crimes included Lori Gaffney and Angela Shaheen, his stepsisters who are the same people who sued to have both Stephens and Phillips kicked out of the house. The appeal Monday is over the injunction from 2010, when a Cherokee County probate judge evicted Phillips and Stephens from the house, which Phillips was allowed to live under her late husband’s will. Bryant Phillips was the father of both Gaffney and Shaheen.

The sisters also asked the Cherokee County coroner to exhume their father’s body in 2010 after Phillips was charged with murder, but test results still are not available.

Julia Phillips was able to stay in the Gaffney home while on house arrest pending trial, and so she lived there from summer 2010 until her September trial. Despite Phillips’ murder conviction, Phillips’ lawyer in the eviction case, Charles Marchbanks Jr. of Greenville, has said she is still entitled to the “life estate” left by Bryant Phillips.

Marchbanks said Thursday the hearing remains scheduled for Monday but there is a possibility of settling the case before then, but he was “not at liberty” to discuss conversations with Phillips.

David Massey, lawyer for the stepdaughters, declined to comment about what may happen Monday in court. Lori Gaffney, who has spent more than $50,000 on taxes and other costs for the house, declined to talk about her stepmother and stepbrother being in court together.

Hunter Stephens admitted in court documents that he was a suspect in Roberts’ killing.

Phillips has never admitted guilt in Roberts’ death. She claimed, right through her trial, that she was attacked in 2010 moments before Roberts was murdered at his York home. Police and prosecutors have acknowledged for years, including during Phillips’ trial, that law enforcement believes at least one other person helped her. Hunter Stephens was questioned, and trial testimony showed he was investigated, but no one else has ever been charged.

Roberts’ sons will both be in court Monday to support Lori Gaffney and Angela Shaheen, because the sisters were in court for them during Phillips’ trial.

“We have some justice, but just part of it, because just one of the people who killed Dad is in jail,” Ronnie Roberts said. “We want full justice. We want anyone who was involved in my father’s death caught.”

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065

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