Murder Suspect Set Free With Not Guilty Verdict

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After a five-year investigation, a murder trial has concluded with a judge giving a not-guilty verdict and setting free a man who the district attorney says she is “100 percent certain” is the murderer.

Defendant Nick Hillary was on trial for the murder of twelve-year-old Garrett Phillips, who was strangled to death on October 24, 2011, in Potsdam, New York.   He was indicted for second degree murder in January 2015.

Hillary was once in a romantic relationship with the boy’s mother, Tandy Collins, and prosecutors claim he blamed the boy for the breakup with Collins and killed him out of jealousy.   Reportedly Collins had broken up with Hillary, saying her children came first and he wasn’t working out with them.

MELANIE KIMBLER-LAGO / WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES  Tandy L. Cyrus holds a picture of her murdered son Garrett Phillips.

Tandy L. Cyrus holds a picture of her murdered son Garrett Phillips.

Phillips was found in the family’s apartment, unconscious and unresponsive on the floor, and later died at the hospital.    A neighbor had heard a loud thud or bang, and then moans, coming from the apartment shared by Collins and her two sons.   He got an apartment manager to open the apartment, and they found the boy lying on the floor, unconscious.   A bedroom window was open, and damaged.   The killer was gone.

In what turned out to be a huge advantage for Hillary, his case never went before a jury, as his defense opted for a judge to hear the case instead, leaving only one person to make the final decision.   Closing arguments were presented last Thursday, after six days of testimony, and Judge Felix Catena gave his “not guilty” verdict Wednesday morning, saying the case against Hillary was “entirely based on circumstantial evidence,” and that there was no physical evidence linking him directly to the murder.

The trial included testimony by 30 people – 22 for the prosecution and 8 for the defense – and over 100 exhibits were entered as evidence.   That still wasn’t enough for a judge who got to make the decision all by himself.

Defense attorney Norm Siegel said after the verdict that “The evidence presented during the seven-day trial did not prove its case with proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Hillary said in a statement to the press, “Today I want to express my gratitude to my entire legal team, to my entire supporters, my entire family, my teammates, all my friends — and thanking Judge Catena for making the right decision.”

But District Attorney Mary Rain – who campaigned for office on the promise to bring the killer to justice – said she is “devastated” by the verdict, according to WWNY TV.

“Just because he was found not guilty, doesn’t mean he’s innocent,” Rain said at a news conference, saying she’s “100 percent certain” he murdered Phillips.

She said Phillips’ family is in mourning again after watching his murderer walk out of the courtroom smiling.

If he had been convicted of the murder, Hillary faced 25 years to life in prison.    Hillary is a former Clarkson University soccer coach.


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