CANTON — Oral “Nick” Hillary, the man charged with the 2011 murder of 12-year-old Garrett J. Phillips in Potsdam, is back in St. Lawrence County jail after a judge reserved decision following a bail hearing Monday.
County Judge Jerome J. Richards had adjourned the hearing, which began May 31, to Monday to allow prosecution more time to address the sufficiency of the combined value of three properties secured by Empire Bail Bonds to cover Hillary’s $150,000 bond, and whether the bond company is licensed to do business in the state.
Hillary, of Potsdam, has been charged with second-degree murder, accused of strangling Garrett Phillips in the boy’s Potsdam home, 100 Market St., between 4:56 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24, 2011.
Judge Richards reserved his decision to have Hillary released on a secured bond consisting of his sister’s Brooklyn home after lengthy testimony from Scott H. Gallant, a Brooklyn real estate appraiser.
Mr. Gallant was hired by District Attorney Mary E. Rain’s office to do an appraisal of the 1080 E. 58th St. home of Hillary’s sister Pauline Winters.
The court had received an original Internet appraisal from the defense that listed the property’s worth as $442,000. A second appraisal made by Jhairan B. Persaud that was submitted in the new memorandum of law upped the value of the home to $600,000, a 38 percent increase.
During his testimony, Mr. Gallant said his appraisal of the property valued it at $570,000.
Ms. Rain said while it appears to meet the $300,000 threshold for the bond, it doesn’t really.
“What you have to do is take the $570,000 that he appraised it at and minus the $297,000 that is owed,” Ms. Rain said. “So it is still about $26,000 to $27,000 short.”
Additionally, Empire Bail Bonds bondsman Giuseppe Newton, of New York City, was called to testify by Judge Richards. Mr. Newton told the judge he had received promissory notes from members of Hillary’s family and that he was satisfied with the value of the property being used as collateral if Hillary absconded.
To demonstrate the company’s legitimacy after the district attorney’s office cast doubt on it, Mr. Newton also provided three licenses to the court at the request of Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard: one showing he was a licensed bondsman, one for Jawam Inc. and one for Empire Bonding and Insurance Co., the companies holding the promissory notes and covering the insurance that would pay the bond if Hillary were to abscond.
Hillary’s attorney Patrick Foster of Renfroe, Driscoll & Foster, New York, told Judge Richards that the testimony presented at the hearing and Hillary’s strong support from his friends and family proved that he was not a flight risk and that the collateral for his bail was legitimate.
But Mr. Haggard said he believed that Hillary’s Jamaican descent makes him a flight risk, adding that he no longer holds employment in the area and has no ties to the community.
Mr. Haggard argued that if the court were going to release Hillary, he should be placed under a number of stipulations, including revocation of his passport. The prosecutor argued strongly that the Potsdam man should remain incarcerated.
“In fact, I can’t think of anyone who is more of a flight risk, and if he were to flee to his country of birth, I don’t know that we would be able to get him back here,” Mr. Haggard said.
The courtroom became emotionally charged as members of the Phillips family could be heard sobbing during Mr. Haggard’s closing.
“The defense talks about his family’s trust and support, but the People also represent a family who buried a 12-year-old boy two and a half years ago,” Mr. Haggard said. “Bail for this person is just not appropriate.”
At the close of the arguments Monday afternoon, Judge Richards said he would adjourn the case pending his reserved right to file a written decision.
“I’ve never had a court reserve decision on a bail hearing,” Ms. Rain said after the court proceeding. “So that was unusual, but I understand that he wants to look at a lot of documents and wants to make a well-reasoned, thought-out decision, so we will wait patiently for that decision to come.”
On June 27, Hillary’s attorney Christopher Renfroe filed a motion with the court seeking to dismiss charges, saying his client would be seeking to fully inspect the grand jury minutes that led to his second-degree murder indictment in an attempt to find that evidence presented before the grand jury was insufficient to result in the charge. If Hillary is successful, Judge Richards would be required to dismiss the indictment, the motion states.