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Hillary jailed on murder charge



POTSDAM — Oral “Nick” Hillary was arrested Thursday and charged with the murder of Garrett J. Phillips, the 12-year-old Potsdam boy found suffocated and strangled to death in his home in 2011.

The sealed indictment charging second-degree murder was handed up about 1:45 p.m. in St. Lawrence County Court.

Hillary, 39, head coach of the Clarkson University men’s soccer team, was taken into custody at his Leroy Street home an hour later. Handcuffed, he proclaimed his innocence as village police led him away. He was arraigned and sent to the county jail without bail.

Clarkson placed him on administrative leave, according to Kelly O. Chezum, university vice president for external relations.

“Our Associate Athletic Director Laurel Kane will be working with student athletes at this time,” Ms. Chezum said.

The indictment alleges that between 4:56 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24, 2011, Hillary murdered Garrett by suffocation and strangulation in the boy’s home at 100 Market St., Apt. 4.

Garrett was found unconscious at his home after neighbors heard screams and cries for help. He was pronounced dead that evening at Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

District Attorney Mary E. Rain said her office had reached out to Hillary’s attorney, Christopher Renfroe, to give Hillary an opportunity to turn himself in. After waiting 45 minutes at the station, police picked Hillary up at his home on Leroy Street about 3 p.m.

Led into the station by Potsdam Police Lt. Mark R. Murray, a lead investigator in the case, Hillary repeated that he was “100 percent innocent.”

Hillary was arraigned without counsel in St. Lawrence County Court, Canton. Judge Jerome J. Richards entered a notguilty plea on his behalf.

Ms. Rain said that since Hillary has Jamaican citizenship and is facing a potential life sentence and because she has “extensive evidence” proving his guilt, he was a flight risk and should be detained. She said his contract as the head coach of the Clarkson University men’s soccer team ends this month.

Hillary was sent to jail without bail pending an arraignment with counsel and bail hearing at 10

Judge Richards also issued five orders of protection in favor of future trial witnesses, all members of Garrett’s family, including his mother, Tandy L. Collins, and uncle Brian A. Phillips.

Following arraignment, Mr. Phillips, who started the Justice for Garrett reward fund, said this was a huge moment for the family. Mr. Phillips cleared his throat and wiped his eyes as he thanked all of the agencies and people involved in the investigation over the last two and a half years.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for their hard work and dedication, but this is just one more level that we had to get to to get to the end. What we want is a conviction for someone that took Garrett’s life,” Mr. Phillips said. “I’ve been confident for two and a half years, and today I am just a little more confident. It’s a good day.

“Nick Hillary has finally been brought to court to answer for these charges, and I think there will be a little sense of relief for them, but there won’t be a great sense of accomplishment until he is actually convicted.”

Potsdam Village Police Chief Kevin M. Bates credited the lead investigators in the case, Lt. Murray and state police Investigator Ted Levinson, for their dedication and hard work.

“This has been a very long and difficult investigation for our department and the state police and the district attorney’s office,” Mr. Bates said. “State police have been working side by side with us since day one of this investigation and have devoted an enormous amount of resources to this investigation to help us bring justice to Garrett and his family.”

Ms. Rain said the change in administration and the “significant body of evidence” helped in the grand jury’s ability to indict Hillary after two and a half years.

“We worked vigorously to develop that evidence,” Ms. Rain said.

She said Thomas J. Mortati, the attorney defending village police against a defamation lawsuit brought by Hillary, gathered information during a deposition in the civil matter that helped assist in the continuation of the investigation.

Video of Hillary’s arrest can be seen at

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