69-Year-Old Woman Guilty Of Boyfriend’s Murder
YORK, S.C. (AP) — A 69-year-old Gaffney woman was sentenced to life in prison Thursday after a jury found her guilty of murder in the strangulation death of her 79-year-old boyfriend more than three years ago.
Prosecutors said Julia Phillips didn’t kill Melvin Roberts, but arranged the death of the prominent attorney because he was getting ready to end their relationship and cut off the financial support he was giving her.
The jury deliberated about five hours. Phillips was sentenced immediately after the verdict to the maximum sentence.
Roberts died a gruesome death in his driveway in February 2010. Authorities said someone hit him in the head with an object, shattering his skull and forcing him to the ground. The assailant fired a gunshot near Roberts to keep him from fighting back, then put a zip tie round his neck and pulled it tight while keeping a foot on his back for traction.
A pathologist testified that the binding squeezed Robert’s 16-inch neck so tight that it measured just 13 inches around when the tie was removed at his autopsy.
Authorities conceded Phillips was too frail to have killed Roberts in this fashion. But in closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Kris Hodge said Phillips was a “desperate, lying, scheming, murderous woman”
“Don’t be fooled by the package. Dynamite comes in a small package, but it’s very deadly,” Hodge said.
Phillips’ lawyer pointed out no one has been arrested for actually killing Roberts and there was no direct evidence linking Phillips to the death. Defense attorney Bobby Frederick suggested police and prosecutors railroaded Phillips because they needed to arrest someone for killing such a prominent person.
“Police should never have charged Julia,” Frederick said. “They didn’t have enough evidence. The only reason they charged her is because this was Melvin Roberts.”
But prosecutors pointed out the story Phillips told about that night didn’t match the evidence.
She said she was at Roberts’ home when a man came and demanded money. Phillips said she had none, and he tied her up and gagged her with duct tape.
Phillips said Roberts came home about 30 minutes later and was attacked. Phillips said she was eventually able to cut through the tape with a key and call 911, although the first two emergency calls did not go through.
But it was raining, and police pointed out Phillips’ clothes were barely wet. When the duct tape was removed from Phillips’ head, only a few stands of her hair were stuck to the tape. Roberts had more than $100 in his wallet when his body was found. Investigators also showed Phillips’ phone records, which indicated she called her home in Gaffney twice before calling 911 and tests that showed gunshot residue on her clothes even though she said she hadn’t been near anyone firing a gun in years.
The trial included plenty of bizarre testimony. A key prosecution witness who testified Phillips asked him to kill Roberts also admitted he did plastic surgery without a license and was a drug informant.
In his opening statement, Phillips’ lawyer told the jury she was wearing pink silk thong underwear and had some Mike’s Hard Lemonade with her the night of the killing because they were going to celebrate her birthday.
Jurors were shown video of Phillips talking to a police officer taking photos of scratches and bruises on her arms and face hours after the killing, asking him if the photos would end up in Playboy.
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