CANTON, N.Y. — A black former college soccer coach on trial in the killing of his ex-girlfriend’s 12-year-old son has been demonized by prosecutors, his attorney said on Thursday.
Oral “Nick” Hillary’s murder trial wrapped up in St. Lawrence County Court with closing arguments. Prosecutors relied on a largely circumstantial case against Hillary, who is accused of killing Garrett Phillips in an apartment in Potsdam, a college town near the Canadian border, in 2011.
Defense attorney Earl Ward echoed critics who claim authorities in the largely white community unjustly prosecuted Hillary. Hillary has shown no violent tendencies, Ward said, and prosecutors bought a case “riddled with doubt.”
“They’re trying to demonize him in your eyes,” Ward told Judge Felix Catena.
The judge heard the case without a jury and is expected to make a decision next week.
Hillary, who was born in Jamaica, was the head soccer coach at Clarkson University at the time of the killing. He and his teenage daughter had lived with Tandy Cyrus and her two sons until the relationship ended in summer 2011. Prosecutors say Hillary blamed the boy for the breakup.
When the boy was killed, Hillary was living elsewhere in Potsdam.
Prosecutors lacked DNA or fingerprint evidence. But Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick argued there is strong evidence, including security camera footage showing the movements of Phillips and Hillary on the streets of Potsdam right before the killing.
Hillary lied about his actions and used his daughter to provide him with a fake alibi, said Fitzpatrick, who is helping St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain.
“Either Nick Hillary is a victim of the most bizarre convergence of coincidences since man first learned to write and record history, and he sits there an innocent man,” Fitzpatrick said, “or, on Oct. 24, 2011, obsessed by his breakup with Tandy Cyrus … he entered that boy’s apartment, he chased him down, he dragged him into a bedroom and he spent 90 seconds choking the life out of him.”
The district attorney at the time of the killing never brought charges.
Rain campaigned on the case, though the first murder indictment she secured was dismissed by a judge. She was able to get the current indictment last year.