Julia Phillips Murder Trial: Witness says Phillips had financial troubles

Published: Aug. 29, 2013 at 6:25 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2013 at 6:25 PM EDT
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YORK, SC (WBTV) - Day 4 in the murder trial of the woman accused in the killing of the former Mayor of York, and jurors heard that the victim, Melvin Roberts, had stopped financially supporting his long time girlfriend – the defendant, Julia Phillips.

Prosecutors say Phillips, while acting in an accomplice capacity with an unknown person, strangled Roberts with a zip tie back in February 2010. Roberts was a well known attorney in York, and a one-time Mayor.

Assistant Solicitor Kris Hodge, who is prosecuting the case, told jurors "Phillips was desperate for money. She needed money to continue living the life she was."

Marie Kaplowitz told the jury she worked as a property manager for Roberts' Realty and was the office manager who kept track of the finances. She testified that Roberts owned the Gaffney boutique he bought for Phillips, and paid all of the bills for the store. Kaplowitz said Roberts also paid Phillips' health insurance, prescriptions, utilities for her Gaffney home, her credit card, cell phone, vehicle registration and insurance.

Kaplowitz said by the end of 2008, Phillips' boutique was spending more money than it was bringing it. She said Roberts instructed her to send letters to vendors, creditors, and advertisers that he was disassociating himself from the boutique and was no longer responsible for the finances.

Kaplowitz told jurors that by the middle of 2009 Roberts stopped paying for Phillips prescription medications – which has a monthly cost of up to $500.

According to Kaplowitz, by the end of 2009, Phillips and Roberts were not getting along at all.

Another witness, Angela Durham, said she worked one or two days a week for Phillips at the boutique. She told jurors that "Mr Roberts wanted to close the store" but Phillips didn't want the store to close. Durham testified that Phillips said "there was another woman Roberts had seen or was seeing and Julia said she wasn't gonna leave Melvin."

Durham said at one point Phillips asked to borrow money from her. She said she told Phillips the only money she had was for her "light bill." According to Durham, Phillips promised to re-pay the money before the bill was due. Durham said when she called Phillips for the money – Phillips said she didn't have it. Durham said she reminded Phillips that she said would pay back the money, that their lights would be turned off. She said Phillips asked "what are you gonna do?" Durham said her husband had to borrow money from his father to pay the bill.

Even though Phillips sat quietly in court, her words reverberated in the courtroom as Solicitor Hodge played a video of the police interview with Phillips.

Thursday morning jurors saw the end of the initial 5-hour police interview that happened hours after Roberts was murdered.

During that police questioning, Phillips argued with York police about handing over her underwear, brassiere, and shoes as potential evidence. Phillips said she didn't want to give police her underwear because it was a gift from Roberts and she wanted to wear it that day because it was her birthday.

At one point in the video, Phillips told police she should call a friend "to get me out." Police responded "you're not under arrest."

Phillips continued to refuse to hand over her under garments so York police applied for and received a search warrant from a judge. The warrant forced Phillips to give police all of her clothing.

Towards the end of the questioning, York police asked Phillips "did you do anything to Melvin?" Phillips responded, "absolutely not. I didn't do anything to Melvin."

Lieutenant Dale Edwards, who was a sergeant with York Police at the time of the murder, conducted the interview with Phillips back in 2010. This morning he told jurors that he considered Phillips' statements suspicious, and she became a person of interest.

Edwards testified he didn't observe any mud on Phillips' face or hair – even though Phillips told police the man who attacked her that night bound her in duct tape and pushed her to the ground. It rained the day of the murder.

Edwards said the duct tape that was around Phillips' head, neck, wrist, and ankle was not "tight."

Three days after the murder, York Police did a follow up interview with Phillips. Police say she gave different information during that questioning.

Phillips told investigators she was physically exhausted but didn't see a doctor because she was too busy in the aftermath of her longtime boyfriend's murder.

Police had Phillips recount the events leading up to the murder. She repeated her story of an unknown man – Hispanic – grabbing her as she got out her SUV in Roberts' driveway. She said the man grabbed her hair, bound her with duct tape, pulled her, her shoes came off, her blue jeans kept falling over her feet and protected her feet as she was being dragged behind a wall. She said the man murmured about money.

Phillips said it "felt like 20 minutes between the time she was tied up and when her boyfriend got home. She said despite the duct tape covering her eyes, she could see the head lights of Roberts' vehicle coming up the driveway. She said she wanted to "warn Melville – to holler or scream" but she couldn't.

Phillips told police she began to "murmur Melvin's name but the man came back and said I'm gonna kill you."

She said she heard the man scuffle with Roberts, then heard a gunshot and "everything went dead."

Phillips told police she was bound so tight she couldn't move but used a key to loosen the duct tape. She said she made it to her car, didn't see anybody, unlocked her car, got it, turned on the lights and saw "Melvin's body in a fetal position." Phillips said she wanted "get out of the car and touch him but thought the best thing she could do was call 9-1-1."

Investigators say phone records show Phillips called her Gaffney home twice before she dialed 911.

During her follow-up interview with police, Phillips said she believed "somebody had it out for Melvin. She didn't see the man reach for the money."

Phillips reminisced with police about Roberts. At point telling investigators that since Roberts had recent heart ailments, "we knew his days on earth wouldn't be long but I didn't think it would be that short."

Later in the day, York Police Detective William Mumaw, who is the lead investigator in Roberts' murder case, told the jury "things were not making sense as he checked and tried to corroborate Julia's story" the night of the murder. He said Phillips claimed a black man attacked her and killed Roberts but then changed the description to Hispanic.

He said the area where Phillips claimed the alleged unknown attacker threw her down to the ground was very muddy but her clothes weren't dirty or wet. He testified that there was only one leaf in Phillips' vehicle after she stayed in her SUV to wait for police. But he said Phillips told them the alleged attacker had her laying and sitting in mud. He said the driver's seat was not damp.

According to Detective Mumaw, Phillips told police her alleged attacker wanted money but her bag was nearby and had about $80 in it. Detective Mumaw said "when you walk up to the bag you could see the money. Everything was neat and in place inside the bag."

Mumaw said Roberts' cell phone was next to his body, and his notepad and papers were still in his vehicle. Detective Mumaw said "it seemed like he got out to talk to somebody."

The detective told jurors he could see the outline of Roberts' wallet in his left rear pocket. "If a person was there for a robbery, why not take the wallet?" Detective Mumaw said Roberts' wallet had "a few hundred dollars in cash" and there was no mud or wetness on the wallet.

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