In 2010, former York, South Carolina, Mayor Melvin Roberts was found dead outside of his home. His girlfriend Julia Phillips told police it was a robbery attempt and that the intruder tied her up and then killed Roberts. But that’s not what the investigators thought really happened. Ahead of Dateline NBC episode about the cast, here’s what you need to know about the crime and what prison sentence Phillips eventually received.
Phillips Received Life in Prison
According to the Rock Hill Herald, Phillips was indicted by a York County grand jury in June 2011. During her 2012 trial, Phillips lawyer argued that she was mentally incompetent to stand trial, so Circuit Court Judge Derham Cole of Spartanburg ordered mental evaluation testing.
Phillips was found mentally competent to stand trial and in 2013, she was convicted of accessory to murder and sentenced to life in prison. However, she alleged that there were accomplices involved in the crime, and in 2014, her son, Hunter Stephens, offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of said accomplices. In 2015, Phillips appealed her conviction, but she died of natural causes in prison at the age of 72 before her appeal could be heard. She was believed to be the oldest female killer in South Carolina history.
When Phillips died, York Police Chief Andy Robinson told the Charlotte Observer, “We have never stopped investigating the case and will not end it now with the death of Ms. Phillips.”
Police Believed Phillips Schemed to Kill Roberts for Financial Gain
According to NBC News, the investigators believed that Roberts was getting ready to end things with Phillips and that’s when she plotted to kill him. But Phillips always maintained that she was a fellow victim of the attack that occurred in their driveway that left Roberts dead.
The 911 call came in at 7:30 pm with Phillips crying and saying that a man had tied her up, according to Dateline. Det. Billy Mumaw found Phillips in a car with duct tape around her wrists. Roberts was found dead on the ground nearby. Phillips said that a Black man had tried to rob them and had killed Roberts, but as the trial unfolded, Phillips’ story didn’t add up.
According to WBTV, investigators came to believe that an unknown accomplice strangled Roberts with a zip tie and then made it look like Phillips had been bound with duct tape. But at the trial, Lt. Dale Edwards testified that despite Phillips saying the man had pushed her to the ground and dragged her away behind a wall on that rainy night, she had no mud on her face or hair. Furthermore, Mumaw testified that Phillips had originally claimed the man was Black, but later changed her description to “Hispanic.”
During the trial, the prosecution alleged that Phillips “was desperate for money” to “continue living the life she was.” A property manager for Roberts Realty testified that Roberts paid for Phillips’ boutique, plus all of her health insurance, prescriptions, utilities, credit cards, cell phone, and more. But by the end of 2008, her boutique was not making any money and Roberts started to disassociate himself from the store. She also testified that by mid-2009, Roberts had stopped paying for some of Phillips’ other bills.
According to Rock Hill Herald, Phillips’ son William Hunter Stephens was a suspect in the killing but was never charged. However, he went to prison in 2012 for drug possession and fraud. The accomplice in Roberts’ death has never been caught.
Dateline NBC airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.