Spartanburg judge to preside over York murder case

By Trent Faris - bio l email

YORK, SC (WBTV) - The South Carolina State Supreme Court has appointed Judge J. Derham Cole, a circuit judge from Spartanburg County, to preside over the Melvin Roberts murder case.

Prior to his murder, Roberts had been an attorney in York County since 1955.  That fact is prompting a change for the person accused of murdering Roberts, Julia Philips.

Phillips, who was arrested in May, is accused of murdering Roberts at his home in York back in February.

"Whether it's representing the accused, prosecuting the accused, or sitting on the bench in a robe, the public has to know that those people are impartial," said York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett.

Roberts' job may now represent a conflict of interest for the accused.

York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett is the man charged in prosecuting Phillips.

"There weren't too many people in York County in the legal community that didn't know who Melvin Roberts was," said Brackett.

Aside from once serving as the mayor of York, Roberts had both personal and professional dealings with many York County judges.

To avoid a legal issue, the State Supreme Court appointed a new judge so that Phillips can get a fair trial.

Judge Derham Cole, a circuit judge from Spartanburg County, will preside over the case.

Phillips' defense team, however, could ask Solicitor Brackett to disqualify himself, too.

Former York County Solicitor Tommy Pope says that personal relationship could become a legal snag for both sides during the trial since Brackett knew Roberts.

"You were friends with Melvin, maybe you didn't cross examine that witness as hard, doesn't mean he really wouldn't do it, but he would have that concern," Pope said.

Brackett says whether he steps aside on his own or is asked to by the defense, it's a decision that won't be made until the first hearing.

Phillips is still being held at the York County Jail.  Her family has hired an attorney from Myrtle Beach.  Her new council has requested a bond hearing for her release.

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