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Potsdam murder suspect in jail without bail pending further hearings


CANTON — Oral “Nick” Hillary, the man charged with the 2011 murder of 12-year-old Garrett J. Phillips, was returned to St. Lawrence County jail Friday without bail following the adjournment of a bail hearing in County Court.

The courtroom was standing-room-only, as supporters of the “Justice for Garrett” campaign and supporters of the “Free the General” campaign — which seeks to have Hillary released from jail — filled the aisles of the galley and waited as attorneys for both sides met in the judge’s chambers for a 50-minute conference.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain and Chief Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard presented two show cause orders and a memorandum of law that argued that County Judge Jerome J. Richards should increase bail above $75,000 cash or $150,000 secured bond and added that the combined value of three properties secured by Empire Bail Bonds to cover Hillary’s bond was not enough to secure his release.

The total value of the properties has to be at least twice the total amount of Hillary’s bond, equaling $300,000. Empire bonded three properties at a total of $279,127, according to the memorandum.

Ms. Rain said new circumstances should require the court to consider keeping Hillary, who is charged with second-degree murder and facing life in prison, in jail without bail.

Hillary just lost his position at Clarkson University, Potsdam, where he had been the men’s head soccer coach and had been looking for employment elsewhere. Ms. Rain also noted an ongoing Internet fundraiser, “Free The General,” which has raised $6,780 to get Hillary out of jail. “He has no ties to the community, no job, no relatives and no reason to stay here,” Ms. Rain said.

Hillary’s attorney, Patrick Foster of Renfroe, Driscoll & Foster, New York, said that his client had been in the community for “oblong years” and that he had the pressure of the collateral of his two sisters’ properties and his girlfriend’s Potsdam home that would guarantee his return to court every time. He added that his girlfriend, Stacia Lee, has a job at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, deepening Hillary’s ties in the community.

“What is the motive of the persons who are pledging this collateral for Mr. Hillary’s bond?” Mr. Foster asked. “There is a sea of people to support him here. Some people traveled two days to be here.”

Mr. Haggard argued that the values of the properties were “upside down,” meaning their value is less than the amount owed, creating a negative equity. He added that Empire Bail Bonds should be examined more closely and that it was part of a “spider web” of businesses that would make it difficult to collect on the bond if Hillary jumped bail.

“We were presented with a company that has at least six other alter egos, and we are going to have to figure out what company is pledging collateral, which is coming to the table,” Mr. Haggard said. “That was not able to be done with the documents that were provided to either the district attorney’s office or to the court.”

Prosecutors argued that Empire Bail Bonds was not licensed in the state and able to do business as a legitimate bondsman, but Mr. Foster said it was licensed and it wasn’t Empire’s burden to present a license to the DA or the court.

“We are going down a road and a slippery, slippery one at that, and the person who suffers, right now, is a person who is innocent,” Mr. Foster said. He said his client was brought into court for the May 19 bond hearing without representation and not given due process of the law.

Judge Richards adjourned the hearing so the defense could produce a license for Empire Bail Bonds and gather other documentation. Bail hearings are scheduled to resume at 8:15 a.m. June 20.

Ms. Rain said Mr. Foster was not prepared for the arguments her office was bringing to the table. “They expected that because we are from a small county that we wouldn’t provide a valid and extensive argument. We did that. They were caught off guard and fortunately the day ran out so it allowed them time to recoup and provide the court with more proof, which I don’t think they are going to be able to provide, regardless of how much time they have,” she said.

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