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Potsdam man accused of identify theft and misleading police in Phillips murder investigation

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POTSDAM — A Potsdam man was charged with sending emails to police under a false identity to accuse three men in the murder of 12-year-old Garrett J. Phillips.

Potsdam Police arrested Richard J. O’Hanlon, 65, of 18 Sisson St., and charged him with two counts of falsely reporting an incident, two counts of third-degree identity theft and two counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration, all misdemeanors.

He was arraigned without counsel Thursday by Potsdam Village Justice Nicholas J. Pignone and released under probation supervision. He will be re-arraigned with counsel Dec. 13.

Police received two emails, one on Dec. 5, 2011, and a second on Aug. 8, 2013, falsely naming William R. Beebe, Norman Gardiner and Craig Foley as those responsible for Garrett’s death on Oct. 24, 2011.

Mr. O’Hanlon said he acted out of revenge against the men, with whom he said he had “trivial” disagreements.

“I didn’t really think about the way it would affect the family of Garrett,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “I was just that upset with the individuals.”

The emails, sent from public libraries in Potsdam and Woodgate, were done on a fake account created by Mr. O’Hanlon under the name of James Blair, the brother of his ex-girlfriend Nancy Matthews, without his knowledge or permission. Mr. O’Hanlon posed as Mr. Blair and later as Mr. Gardiner, falsely confessing to involvement in the murder with Mr. Beebe and Mr. Foley.

Mr. O’Hanlon told police that he was distressed with personal problems. The bizzare messages referring to the boy’s murder included references to Elvis and the Antichrist.

“I didn’t know what the ramifications would be,” said Mr. O’Hanlon, sitting at his dining room table in an interview Friday. “I didn’t think it was going to come to this. I thought they were going to talk to these three individuals and put them on edge. I thought this would put their credibility into question by my getting even.”

Potsdam Police Lt. Mark R. Murray said police tracked down Mr. O’Hanlon with the help of multiple law enforcement agencies and subpoenaed interviews including those named in the emails.

“You can imagine the resources that were used in this diversion, but the message here is if you send an email, we are going to trace it,” Lt. Murray said.

Tandy Cyrus-Collins, Garrett’s mother, said the incident is troubling to her family after a two-year “emotional roller coaster.”

“It’s upsetting to the family since we have been waiting for two years for results,” Mrs. Cyrus-Collins said. “That someone would do this, creating false hope that something surfaced, obviously this is someone who has severe issues.”

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