by: To contact the reporter, e-mail Updated:YORK, S.C.,None — Melvin Roberts fought to defend his clients in court for more than 50 years. On Friday night, York police were trying to find out who killed him in his own driveway.
"All the doors are wide open right now," said York police Chief Bill Mobley. "We're looking for answers."
On Thursday night, police got a call from Roberts Avenue, named after the prominent attorney. They arrived and found the 78-year-old man dead.
He had a plastic tie around his neck and an obvious head injury.
His girlfriend, who police have not identified, said she came home carrying groceries and someone grabbed her from behind. The attacker tied her hands and feet, gagged her and forced her behind a brick retaining wall.
She couldn't tell police how long she was held there before Roberts came home and pulled up behind the house.
"She said she heard an altercation of some kind, and she heard a pop," Mobley said.
Mobley would not say if that sound was a gunshot, and York County coroner Sabrina Gast told Eyewitness News she had determined the cause of death but could not release it officially Friday night.
The girlfriend spent much of Friday afternoon talking with investigators and helping create a sketch of the man who attacked her and killed Roberts.
Her description was vague: a man of unknown race, 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11, weighing 200 to 240 pounds. She said he spoke with an accent, but she couldn't place it, and he was soft spoken.
Roberts was not only a well-known defense attorney, but also a former mayor, council member and civic leader in York. Flags at city hall were lowered to half staff in his honor.
Mayor Eddie Lee saw Roberts on Thursday morning as he drove to his law office. He wanted to calm fears in this small town that police were doing everything they could to catch the killer.
"I just want to let people in York know, we will find out who murdered Melvin Roberts," he said.
Mary Pace knew Roberts for nearly 30 years and often worked for him at his home.
"We're talking about a good-hearted man," she said.
Pace said Roberts was always working, even on weekends.
"We always thought if he ever died, he'd died at his desk at his law office," she said. "He was a kind and fair man."
Mobley knew Roberts for many years, too, and considered him a personal friend.
"There's no doubt we want to get this solved. It's just going to take putting some things together," he said.
Police could not say if any threats were made against Roberts, but they are looking at all avenues, including any connections to his law practice.
Police dogs did track a scent from the back of the house through the woods, but lost it at a nearby street.
The State Law Enforcement Division is also involved in the investigation.