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Bail set for Hillary in Phillips murder case

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CANTON — A Clarkson University head soccer coach accused of murdering a 12-year-old Potsdam boy was returned to St. Lawrence County jail Friday on $75,000 cash bail or $150,000 bond.

Oral “Nick” Hillary, 39, of 131 Leroy St., Potsdam, head coach of Clarkson’s men’s soccer team, was indicted Thursday by a grand jury on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Garrett J. Phillips, who was found suffocated and strangled to death in his home in 2011.

Hillary was placed on administrative leave, according to Kelly O. Chezum, university vice president for external relations. Associate Athletic Director Laurel Kane is currently filling the position.

During his re-arraignment and bail hearing Friday with his attorney, Christopher Renfroe, Hillary pleaded not guilty.

Before the alleged murder, Hillary dated Garrett’s mother, Tandy L. Cyrus, now Collins. Mrs. Collins lived with her son in the second-floor apartment of North County Manor, 100 Market St.

The indictment charges that between 4:56 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24, 2011, Hillary murdered Garrett at the boy’s home, where Garrett was found unconscious after neighbors heard screams and cries for help. He was pronounced dead that evening at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam.

Mrs. Collins and other members of Garrett’s family filled the galley of the St. Lawrence County courtroom Friday morning. Hillary’s family and his supporters from St. Lawrence University’s athletic community were also there. Hillary graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1999 and earned regional Defensive Player of the Year and NSCAA All-American honors.

Mr. Renfroe told County Judge Jerome J. Richards that Hillary has maintained his innocence from the moment investigators began to interrogate him after Garrett’s death. He said a reasonable bail amount should be set.

“This is a serious charge, and Mr. Hillary plans to fight this charge,” Mr. Renfroe said. “This has been a cloud over his head. He has been looking forward to this day and he plans on staying in this community.”

County District Attorney Mary E. Rain recommended that Judge Richards hold Hillary without bail. Ms. Rain said Hillary was a flight risk because of his Jamaican citizenship, family ties he has there as well as in New York City, a potential life sentence if convicted, “extensive evidence” proving his guilt, and because his contract with Clarkson University was up at the end of the month.

But Ms. Chezum said employees at the university don’t have contracts, only faculty members do.

“All employees get a letter next month that says our salary for the next fiscal year will be ‘X,’” Ms. Chezum said. “I don’t believe that we have a contract for employees.”

Mr. Renfroe argued that Hillary’s long history in the county and desire to remain in the Potsdam community are reason enough to set bail.

Hillary has an 18-year history in the county, from his days at SLU to his current employment at Clarkson, where he has been for the last seven years, Mr. Renfroe said. He said Hillary has a fiancée and three children in the area.

“He has left the country to visit his family in Jamaica and has come back,” Mr. Renfroe told Judge Richards. “Any day you require him to appear, he will be here.”

Following Judge Richard’s decision to set bail at $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond, Ms. Rain said she was “obviously very disappointed.”

“I believe that not only was remand appropriate, but if a bail had been set it should be set at a significantly higher rate because of the seriousness of the crime,” Ms. Rain said.

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