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Police investigating the scene of Garrett Phillips' death in 2011. Photo: Nora Flaherty
Police investigating the scene of Garrett Phillips' death in 2011. Photo: Nora Flaherty

Hillary pleads not guilty in Garrett Phillips murder

This morning, officers led Oral Hillary into the St. Lawrence County courthouse for his bail hearing. Potsdam police arrested him at his home the afternoon before. Hillary is charged with second degree murder in the death of 12-year-old Garrett Phillips in Potsdam. The arrest followed four days of closed-door grand jury testimony.

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Reported by

Natasha Haverty
Reporter and Producer

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain accuses Hillary of suffocating and strangling Phillips in October, 2011. Defense attorney Christopher Renfroe pleaded not guilty on behalf of his client.

Judge Jerome Richards set bail at $75,000 cash, $150,000 in secure bond.

Oral "Nick" Hillary. Photo: St. Lawrence County Sheriff Department
Oral "Nick" Hillary. Photo: St. Lawrence County Sheriff Department
District Attorney Mary Rain says she's disappointed Hillary was offered bail. Speaking outside the court she said that Hillary's a high enough flight risk that he should be kept in custody. "I believe that not only was remand appropriate, but if a bail was going to be set it should be set at a significantly higher rate because of the seriousness of the crime."

But Renfroe told Judge Richards that Hillary has a full life in the North Country, with a fiancé, children, and extended family, and that his client is committed to appearing before the court whenever asked. He said there's been a cloud over his client's head for three years, and that Hillary wants to clear his name. Renfroe declined to speak to the press.

Members of the Clarkson soccer team and other local college coaches sat along the back row of the courtroom.

Hillary graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2000, after serving more than two years in the military, and coached soccer at several colleges in Florida before coming back to the North Country as a coach at St. Lawrence, SUNY Potsdam, and Clarkson, where he just coached his sixth season.

In the two years since Garrett Phillips was found dead, Hillary has been questioned, but never charged. He has sued the village of Potsdam and the police department for defamation, claiming leaks during the investigation negatively affected his reputation.

The defense now has 45 days to submit motions to the judge, who will have to determine whether the case merits a trial. District Attorney Rain says that if a trial is set, it could be up to a year before it begins.

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