SC woman refuses to testify: 'My confidence is in God, not the courtroom'

SC woman refuses to testify: 'My confidence is in God, not the courtroom'

YORK COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - The defense rested in a trial for a South Carolina woman accused of murdering her boyfriend, and former mayor.

The prosecution rested on Tuesday.

The defense told the judge Julia Phillips has decided not to testify in her trial.

Before the jury came in the room on Wednesday, the judge asked Julia Phillips about testifying.

This was the first time she spoke out loud in the courtroom.

She stood up and said "I've been up since 4 a.m. praying and in all my interest, best not to."

The judge asked if she made the decision not to testify - and she said yes, adding "I grew up a Christian. I am a Christian. My confidence is in God not the courtroom."

Phillips was arrested in 2010 and charged with murder in the death of Melvin Roberts. Phillips lived with Roberts - who was a long time lawyer and former Mayor of York.

In February 2010, investigators said Roberts was found on his property with a head wound and strangled. Investigators say there was a bullet hole in Roberts' clothing - but the bullet didn't hit Roberts.

Phillips told police a stranger robbed her, tied her up, shoved her down in the mud, then attacked Roberts.

Detectives say the evidence pointed to Phillips and arrested her three months later.

On Tuesday afternoon, as the trial continued into a second week, the prosecution rested its case after calling more than 20 witnesses.

That's when the defense made a motion for a directed verdict, saying there was a failure to present sufficient evidence.

Attorneys said the only thing prosecutors have is a witness who claims Julia tried to hire him to kill Melvin Roberts - but that witness didn't kill him.  They also only have small traces of gunshot residue on Phillips' blouse that could have come from different locations.

Prosecutors say 12 different witnesses testified about her inconsistent statements. They say her clothes were not wet.

A forensic scientist testified that there was some gunshot residue on Phillips' blouse.

He showed jurors Roberts' jacket with the bullet hole – the expert said the killer pointed the gun directly on Roberts clothes. Prosecutors say the gunshot residue on Phillips' blouse shows that she wasn't behind a wall, as she claimed - but was close to the gun when it was fired.

The prosecution believes Phillips intended to murder Roberts because of a financial motive.

The judge ruled there was sufficient evidence in the crime and the trial would continue.

Defense Attorney Bobby Frederick began calling witnesses late Tuesday afternoon.

A private investigator for the defense said he compiled a list of suspects to get DNA to prove Phillips didn't kill Roberts.

William Beam testified he followed people on the list for three or four days waiting for them to discard items that he could pick up and send for DNA testing.

Neither he nor law enforcement found the person who matches the DNA at the scene.

Beam told the court he developed his own list of suspects "because police seemed to put names aside if they weren't connected to Julia."

Beam said when he was first hired to investigate the case, he went to Phillips' residence in Gaffney. Beam said he found a bullet hole in a couch in the living room but he acknowledged he "couldn't say when the gun was fired."

Under cross examination by Assistant Solicitor Kris Hodge, who is prosecuting the case, Beam admitted he does not have any training as a bullet hole analysis. He said he guessed it was a bullet hole.

The defense called several neighbors who lived near Roberts' house on the night of the murder.

Jerome French testified "I saw two gentlemen walking up the street from the wooded area. I did not know them. They didn't make contact, they didn't say anything."

Andrew Clay, who defense attorneys say they had to subpoena to force him to appear in court, said he doesn't remember much from the night of the murder. Clay told the court he has birth defects, suffers from attention deficit disorder, and that his memory is bad.

According to notes from a police officer who interviewed Clay in February 2010 after the murder, Clay told police he saw a late model "Silverado that was scratched and the exhaust was leaking." He reportedly told police he saw the truck on the road by Melvin's house and the truck had a "bunch of Mexicans."

Another neighbor, Gina Bass - who lived directly across from Roberts' house - testified that twice during the week of the murder she saw a black Lincoln enter Roberts' "driveway at a high rate of speed and exited at a high rate speed." She said she saw a young black male driving.

Prosecutors say the motive for the murder was money - that Phillips was afraid Roberts was leaving her and cutting her off financially.

Defense Attorney Frederick called his paralegal to the stand.

Joi Frederick - who is married to the defense attorney - told jurors she is also the office manager who handles the accounts.

Joi Frederick said Phillips paid $50,000 for her defense - including attorneys' fees, investigators, and experts.

Attorney Bobby Frederick pointed out Phillips still had resources and family to care for her after Roberts' death. It was an attempt to negate the prosecution's theory for motive.

Under cross examination by Assistant Solicitor Hodge, Joi Frederick told the court it was Phillips' sister who is paying for the defense.

In his will, Roberts left Phillips the building that housed her boutique in Gaffney.

Joi Frederick testified that Phillips relinquished her rights to the building.

But when Assistant Solicitor Hodge asked for a copy of the document that shows Phillips has relinquished the building, Frederick couldn't produce it - saying she didn't have it with her.

Hodge asked when did Phillips relinquish the building - Frederick said she didn't know the date - but that it was after Phillips was arrested and charged with Roberts' murder.

Julia Phillips has been quiet in court – listening as Hodge called witness after witness.

When Diane Rayfield took the stand, she told jurors that she was friends with Phillips and Roberts. Rayfield testified that about a month before Roberts' murder – he and Phillips relationship had strained.

"One day she told me that Melvin had stopped giving her money, wasn't paying bills anymore," Rayfield said in court on Tuesday. "Not having anything to do with her, wouldn't touch her."

Rayfield told the court that in the days after Roberts' murder, Phillips was laughing, joking like nothing was wrong.

A former investigator with the State Law Enforcement Division testified that police believed two people were involved in the murder and that Phillips was allegedly one of them.

Scott Williams said when he interviewed Phillips two weeks after the murder, her story kept changing.

"It was becoming more and more difficult to eliminate Ms. Phillips" as a suspect Williams said.

He said Phillips mentioned new details – like the attacker "threatened to blow her head off."

He said Phillips couldn't explain how she was able to talk to the attacker if her mouth was duct taped, and how she saw her attacker had curly hair or dreadlocks and a tan coat – but her eyes were covered. And she said she saw Roberts' headlights coming up the driveway.

According to Williams, Phillips said when Roberts had been attacked, "in my heart I prayed God would let him die."

Williams testified that Phillips told him she "crawled and walked" to her vehicle. But that she "never mentioned checking on Melvin."

The investigator said at one point Phillips told police she thought one of the victim's sons was involved in the attack.

During cross examination, defense attorney pointed out that police found unknown DNA from the murder scene, on Phillips' clothes, and the duct tape.

Investigators say DNA from 70 people were tested – police haven't found a match.

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