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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  July 4, 2021 11:00pm-1:00am PDT

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a hollywood happy ending? no. sometimes real life is better. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline, " i'm craig melvin. ai melvin i have pictures in my head that will never go away. i'm never going to have my son back. i don't get to go to his high school graduation. or see him go to college. i had no idea what had happened! >> it was like a meteor hitting. >> potsdam rescue, need an ambulance. >> a 12-year-old kid. loved to ride his scooter everywhere. lost his life at the hands of a killer. >> he's a soccer coach! connecting him to this case. >> they don't have the fingerprint. they don't have blood. they don't have the witness. >> there's a darkness that's at work here. >> you believe nick hillary
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killed your boy? >> yes. >> people call me a murderer. i'm 100% innocent. >> you could have heard a pin drop in that courtroom. âa âa >> potsdam. way upstate new york. a small speck on the map on the road to the canadian border. >> that they like to joke up there that there's more cows than people, and i don't think they're joking. >> in this sleepy place, with a main street from the 1950s, you'd think nothing happens that could possibly interest the outside world. but an epic story has unfolded here. a murder case for sure, but so much more than that. it's a little bit "fargo." >> it is a little bit "fargo." >> jesse mckinley, a reporter for the "new york times, " was
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drawn to it. >> it's got a small town. it's got love triangles. it'sor writer are irresistible. >> the woman in the middle of it all, tandy cyrus. >> a very pretty woman in a town where pretty women stand out. >> one of her lovers stood out too, nick hillary, as a black man in a predominantly white town. >> you still have people who will not accept interracial relationship. >> what happened between tandy and nick would tip the balance in a political campaign, give rise to a controversial lawsuit, and lure high-profile, big city attorneys to confront each other in a murder trial that attracted national attention. >> this has become a story that kind of echoes beyond st. lawrence county, and even beyond new york. >> except, when you drill down, it's as local as it gets, all about a small-town boy. this one. 12-year-old garrett phillips, tandy's son. garrett was a blur of a kid, perpetually set on fast-forward, according to his mom. >> he was very energetic.
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always on the go. always had to have something to do. >> people here remember him tearing around town on his ripstick, a little bit skateboard, a little bit snowboard, all hip action and balance. there goes garrett sidewalk-surfing his way home in 2011. did you think, "wow, my kid is really an awesome little athlete? >> yes. soccer, lacrosse, football, hockey. he was very good at everything. >> his bedroom wall -- a poster shrine to his sports heroes, including new england patriots quarterback tom brady. >> he's never really inside. wasn't much for video games. >> so it's got to be pitch black before he's ready to come in for the night? >> yes. >> but when he was still a toddler, garrett was dealt a devastating blow. the death of his father, robbie. >> garrett was nine months old
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when his dad had a brain aneurysm that ruptured. and then he was 2 when robbie passed away. >> tandy, a single mom, picked up the pieces as best she could. she studied at the police academy but eventually gave up law enforcement for a job in a credit union, where she became a loan officer. she also had a brief marriage, which gave garrett a kid brother, aaron. did garrett like to mess with him? >> all the time. >> he liked to play jokes a little bit, didn't he? >> yes. april fools was his favorite day of the year. >> then tandy moved in with a sheriff's deputy named john jones but it didn't last. how did the breakup go? >> not well. at one point she said that john shoved her during an argument, and that that was the last straw in that relationship. >> so in 2010 tandy was alone again, making ends meet by moonlighting as a bartender in a joint on potsdam's main drag.
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that's when nick hillary walked in and pulled up a stool. so he's just a customer who comes in? >> yes. he came in on evenings after he was done work and coaching. >> they came from different worlds. she was local, the frozen north. he was from lush jamaica. what's a happy memory from jamaica for you, nick? >> going to the rivers. just swimming all day. coming back home. mom has a great home-cooked meal waiting for you. i mean, you -- that's a fantastic day. >> he moved to brooklyn as a teenager and found his niche as a soccer star, earning a scholarship to nyu. but the kid from jamaica was still searching, so he ditched school for the army, just as the first gulf war was winding down. >> i said, let me serve a greater purpose for a while. >> three years in the army, all
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stateside, forced nick to grow up, and now he was ready for college. soccer was his ticket to st. lawrence university near the canadian border. here's a jamaican guy used to swim all day in the rivers and you're going to be in fields of snow for six months a year? >> exactly. exactly. you know, but in the summertime it brings me back, right back to jamaica again. >> weirdly, had you found something in upstate new york that worked out very well for you, a good fit? >> yeah. it sure was. >> he felt most comfortable on the soccer field, where his respectful teammates gave him a nickname. >> nick was the general. he was a leader. the general. >> so that was a tip of the hat both to his career as a vet -- >> yeah, absolutely. >> but also his traits as a person. >> yeah, his leadership traits for sure. i mean it fit him to a tee. >> in 1999 nick led st. lawrence to an undefeated season and a national championship, cementing bonds of friendship that remain tight today. >> just great person on and off the field. a great role model. >> yeah, he was our brother. he was our big brother.
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>> he was the glue that kept us all together. he brought us together. he arranged dinners at his house. he cooked for the whole team. >> is that the rasta pasta nights? >> the rasta pasta. absolutely. i mean, it was a staple of who we were as a group. >> after the championship season and graduation, nick kept leading. he became a coach and, in 2009, landed a plum job, head soccer coach at clarkson, just minutes from his alma mater. life was good. it got even better when nick, a father of three who'd drifted from his kids'mother, met tandy at that bar. him drinking guinness and diagramming plays on a cocktail napkin. what do you think the attraction was, tandy? >> conversation was just -- it was easy. >> the one thing that i liked about tandy, she had goals and ambition. >> things between the two heated up quickly, as these e-mails attest. from nick, i miss you millions. have a great work day. from tandy, i can't wait to get home to you. i love you.
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they were sharing a house, blending families, and going on vacations as a couple. nick took her to jamaica. but as they say in the islands, it wasn't a cool breeze being an interracial couple in potsdam, which is over 90% white. and, he said, it was particularly hard on garrett, tandy's boy. >> garrett was being teased at school because his mom is dating a black man. >> so he's getting schoolyard aggravation, huh? >> exactly. >> but whatever tensions garrett was feeling, it didn't keep him from his sports. they were always a welcome distraction. even on the fateful afternoon of october 24th, 2011. >> he was playing basketball with his friends in the gym. but i had got upset with him because he knew the rule was he had to go home and do his homework first. >> do your homework and then go play with your pals? >> right. so i made him go home. >> garrett blasted home on his ripstick on what seemed like a nothing-special, rain-dreary
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monday in potsdam, where community safety was a given. so no worries he'd be home first, home alone. what could possibly go wrong? as it turned out, a lot. >> potsdam police. >> a little after 5:00 p.m., a neighbor called police. >> hi. i live in an apartment house and the folks next to us, i thought i heard screaming like "no" and "help" a couple of times. so i knocked on their door, and i heard the lock click. >> coming up -- what had happened in that apartment? >> they get the key. they open the door. and they go inside. >> potsdam rescue. need an ambulance. >> someone had been in my apartment. >> i had no idea what had happened. >> when "dateline" continues. to protect people. to help them save. with a home and auto bundle from progressive. ahh.
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i was born for this. and now it's prime time. cut. jamie, what are you doing? you're not even in this one. i thought it was thursday. sorry. -it is. -i thought -- i thought it was last thursday. >> that october monday in 2011,
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garrett phillips was supposed to be the first one home to his
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second-floor apartment at 100 market street. he apparently arrived just before 5:00 pm. >> it's on a very busy street. market street is basically the -- >> right off the main drag. >> right, it is the main drag. it's a kind of rundown apartment building. >> sean hall and marissa vogel, engaged then and now married, didn't know tandy cyrus or her sons, but they were very familiar with the boys-will-be-boys activities across the hall. >> you could hear running or roughhousing sometimes, or something rolling down the hallway like a skateboard. >> but that afternoon, as sean and marissa were watching the drama "dexter" on tv, the sounds coming from next door were different, scary different. >> i heard a loud crash, and after that it was silence for a few seconds, and then in a low voice i heard what sounded like moaning, "help, " "ow, " or "no." >> at that moment i didn't think it was two little boys roughhousing anymore. it felt more dangerous. it felt wrong. >> concerned, marissa walked down the hallway and listened in. >> i knocked on the door and waited a moment, and then i definitely heard a click, like a lock.
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i had the feeling that there was somebody on the other side of that door. >> she called potsdam pd. >> i live in 3a, and they live across the hall. it just made me a little nervous that i thought i heard yelling and then i knocked to see if they're okay and then it was silent. i'm sorry if it's not anything. it was a weird situation that it makes me uncomfortable. >> okay. i'll have somebody check on it. >> a patrol officer arrived at the second-floor apartment around 5:15 pm. no one answered his knock, so he waited for the building manager to bring a key. >> the patrolman hears what he thinks is footsteps moving inside. >> inside? >> inside the apartment. and then they get the key. they open the door. and they go inside. >> everything appeared to be in order. the living room was tidy, garrett's stuff all in place. ripstick propped against a
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wall. backpack in the corner. >> they walk to the back. they turn the corner there, and then they find garrett. he's lying there. they think at first he's sleeping. perhaps he's fallen. perhaps he's knocked himself out. but at that point he's pretty much in physical distress. >> potsdam rescue. need an ambulance to respond to 100 market street, apartment 4 and expedite. patrol on scene beginning cpr. >> the patrol officer called in the distressing details. >> unresponsive male. no pulse. the mother is tandy cyrus. >> isn't she john jones'ex-girlfriend? >> jones was a sheriff's deputy, so police knew tandy and tracked her down. she raced to the canton-potsdam hospital. >> and garrett's in a very bad way in the hospital. >> yes. >> what has happened? is there any information about this? >> when i got there, the doctor told me that he was in full cardiac arrest when they brought him in.
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but i had no idea what had happened. and couldn't understand how my 12-year-old had a heart attack. >> did you think at first that maybe this had something to do with his dad's problem? maybe there was something genetic, aneurysm or something that had happened to him? >> i honestly was in shock. and couldn't wrap my head around anything. >> and i don't really want to take you back there. but you're there when he finally gives up? >> yes. >> they can't bring him back. >> no. >> how awful for you. garrett phillips, unstoppable in life, was dead at age 12. what happens in the next few hours, tandy? >> it was kind of a blur. we were at the hospital for a while. we got sent home. and i slept in aaron's room with him. >> at the hospital tandy had been joined by some of the men in her life, her ex-husband casey collins and john jones, the sheriff's deputy. but no one notified nick hillary. turns out, he and tandy had
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split up the month before and he was no longer in her loop. so lieutenant mark murray of the potsdam pd called nick. >> mr. hillary speaking. >> it's mark murray of the potsdam police department. we had an incident occur this evening and we'd like to speak with you in regards to it. >> minutes later, lt. murray and two other investigators were at nick's door, a courtesy notification, they said. >> it's, we're going to reach out to all the people who are connected to this kid. what do they know? do they know anything about where he was or who he might have been with? >> attorney tom mortati represents the potsdam police. >> so mr. hillary, we have some bad news for you. >> yes. you know, mr. hillary expresses shock, i can't believe this, oh my goodness, puts his hands on his head. >> nick hillary says he remembers the moment well. >> i'm still broken up over the situation. he has lived with me. how could i not be affected by what has happened to garrett? >> nick wasn't dating tandy anymore and he told police he hadn't been in her apartment since she moved in two months earlier.
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the officers didn't stay long. an autopsy was scheduled for the next day, but police didn't wait for the results to reveal their suspicions to tandy. >> when was it that you started to get this awful news that there might be foul play? >> the next morning. >> how'd that happen? >> we'd gone down to the police station. and that's when they had made a comment that someone had been in my apartment. >> somehow, garrett's made it home and there's somebody there or follows him or something happens and he's attacked. >> yes. >> is it now a homicide investigation? >> yes. >> coming up -- >> this is a crime that does not happen in a place like this. >> a small town in fear. >> is there a break-in maniac out there? >> yeah, someone who is going to kill again? >> an urgent hunt for suspects begins. >> who are the people connected to his life? >> tandy's partners and
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husbands? >> absolutely. >> when "dateline" continues. you'd never wash your dishes in this. your dishwasher looks clean but, when grease and limescale build up, it's not as hygienic as you think. use finish dishwasher cleaner its dual-action formula tackles grease and limescale. finish. clean dishwasher. clean dishes. tired of clean clothes that just don't smell clean? what if your clothes could stay fresh for weeks? now they can! this towel has already been used and it still smells fresh. pour a cap of downy unstopables into your washing machine before each load and enjoy fresher smelling laundry for up to 12-weeks.
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i'm back baby! boss baby is in theaters. [ screaming ] oh my gosh! it's so real! it's so real! yee-haw! go left! go left! i'm gonna go where navigation says. [ screaming ] [ navigation ] turn left. thank you navigation. we did it. - i guess we did. i was talking about me and precious. my noble steed. >> october 2011.
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halloween was less than a week away, but the good folks of potsdam, young and old, were learning that a monster had arrived early. a child killer was in their midst. >> can you tell me if it was an adult that hurt him or -- >> we don't -- >> or children? you don't know? >> we don't know. it's still under investigation. >> news this bad traveled fast in a town where so many people knew the emts, the nurses and docs at the hospital, the cops. lieutenant mark murray is a life-long potsdam resident. >> at the hospital someone said he looked like he had been beat up. or he had -- he had injuries on his body. >> the boy had a rug burn on his knee. what's that tell you? >> the injuries on the knees indicated, along with other injuries, that there was a significant struggle. it was a violent struggle. this boy fought for his life. >> what do you think it is? like a choke hold? or hands -- fingers around the neck, or what? >> it's a combination of being sat upon and -- and smothered and asphyxiated. so it was a long process. it wasn't an instant death. >> a chilling headline summed it up -- "boy's death is ruled a homicide: police tell family 12-year-old garrett phillips was strangled; no suspects listed." >> from every indication this
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was a very tense scene. this is a crime that does not happen in a place like this. >> is there a break-in maniac out there? >> yeah. >> an intruder who kills children? >> absolutely. is there someone who is going to kill again, god forbid? >> in the vacuum of hard information, rumor took flight. >> is it true about some guy riding around on a bicycle molesting children? >> that one i haven't heard. hang on, though. >> but in the fog, a story that was gaining traction early on, an unsubstantiated report that garrett had been killed by one or more kids. attorney for the potsdam police, tom mortati. >> who was he with recently? did he have any issues with other kids? you know, who was he playing with that afternoon? >> calls continued coming in to the police hotline, townspeople begging for reassurance. from a school principal -- >> we're meeting with our staff right now. the news said that our student had died last night, was possibly beaten to death by another youth. >> back at the crime scene, police were beginning to pick up clues that suggested another possibility -- that the killer had to be an adult. >> the police kind of descend en masse and one of the things they see is that in a back bedroom there's a window that apparently has been pushed
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outward. the screen is ajar. >> so whoever's in there has to leave. and there's only one way out. and that's the second-story window. there's no fire escape. you're kind of up off the ground. >> the developing theory was that when a cop knocked at the door that window became the killer's only exit. police surmised that only a fit adult, not a kid, could make such a dangerous leap. >> there's kind of a shed structure beneath the window. >> yeah, about ten feet down. not an easy jump. >> a cracked tile was a big clue that the killer ricocheted off the shed on his way down to the ground, where police picked up another clue. >> they find a skid, kind of a gash in the -- in the grass below. and keep in mind it was a little bit muddy down there. >> so this is describing whoever the intruder was's exit from the property. >> yeah. what -- basically what they're arguing is that he jumped out of the window down to the shed, off the shed into the grass, and ran off. >> police wondered if the killer had injured himself on the way down, possibly limping away from the crime scene. but no one reported seeing someone flee. so police combed the area looking for fingerprints,
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shoeprints, dna. evidence was collected and sent to the crime lab. meanwhile, investigators began talking to those who knew garrett best. >> who were the people connected to his life? >> so tandy's partners and husbands. >> absolutely. yep. >> the list included ex-husband casey collins, former boyfriend john jones, and her most recent ex-lover, nick hillary. collins and jones had been with tandy at the hospital, and they even sat next to her during her interview at the potsdam p.d. the next morning. john jones is to tandy's left, holding her hand. casey collins was quickly eliminated as a suspect, because he had a solid alibi that placed him nowhere near garrett's apartment at 5:00 p.m. on october 24th. but john jones, the local sheriff's deputy, got a deeper look. >> so it's early hours, but something might be going on with john jones. you just don't know what it is, huh? >> potentially, yes. >> he told police he got home about 5:00, and he lives just two blocks from garrett's apartment. police say this is jones on a very grainy security video,
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across the street from where garrett passed on his skate ride home. in a police interview room, jones was asked to roll up his shirt and pants to check for possible wounds and a leg injury. meanwhile, tandy was talking to police, and she had some thoughts. strong thoughts. coming up -- >> they had asked if there was anybody i could think of that would want to hurt garrett, and there was only one person that came to mind. >> the chief of police there in potsdam indicated to another investigator that they had a pretty hot suspect and that they were lining up whatever evidence they could to try to make an arrest. >> when "dateline" continues.
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12-year-old son. now she had to pull herself together to talk to the potsdam police. >> did they ask you who could possibly have something in for little garrett? >> yes. >> what'd you say? >> nick. >> nick hillary, the soccer coach, her most recent ex-boyfriend. >> there seems to be some discussion, who would want to harm garrett. and the name nick is raised. early on, it sounds like. >> the name nick was raised almost instantaneously, from --
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from most indications. and whether or not that was justified or not, of course, is at the heart of the case. >> the videotape of tandy's interview with police is difficult to hear. but when she talked to "dateline, " she described a different side of "the general, " the nickname adoring teammates gave nick in his glory days. she came to believe it reflected a more controlling nature, and that's what she was telling the cops. >> he was very regimented. everything. his day started and ended with his planner. >> like 9:30 tomorrow morning i'm going to be doing thus and such and at 11:00 i'm going to be doing this? >> yes. very structured. >> did he bring that into your life and into the family? >> he tried. >> he tried. >> it wasn't well received. >> especially not by garrett, a spontaneous, ants-in-the-pants kid. but according to tandy, nick was increasingly acting the drill instructor with both the boy and his mother. >> if i didn't get garrett under control or get him on a more strict schedule, then when he got older i wasn't going to be able to control him. he was all about control. >> was that too much? was he asking you too much? >> very much so.
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that's not how i am. that's not how my kids were. and he wanted them to change. >> tandy said nick's inflexibility brought it all crashing down. she said garrett had told her about one incident with one of nick's children. >> there was kind of an argument between garrett and his daughter that turned into an argument between the two of us. he took his daughter's side and obviously i took garrett's side. and i chose my son. >> as tensions escalated, and with nick out of town, tandy had a heart-to-heart with garrett. he didn't hold back. >> he didn't like being in the same house with nick and his kids. and he just -- he wasn't happy. >> that was it. tandy told nick she was moving out. then, according to tandy, it was nick's turn to be unhappy. >> there was an argument. he told me that i was letting garrett make my decisions for
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me. and he was standing in front of the doorway blocking me. and he picked me up and carried me away from the door. and wouldn't let me leave. >> was that a scary moment? >> it was. >> was that a side of nick you hadn't seen to that point? >> yes. he ended up putting me down. and he just -- he put his hands up and stepped back. and i left. >> tandy says soon after that incident occurred she and her two boys moved into that second-floor apartment at 100 market street, and nick helped them move. >> we'd ended up having a couple different conversations. you know, trying to make it work. but living in separate households. and i had talked to garrett. and he said he was okay with it. he just didn't want to live in the same house with him. >> but according to tandy, nick wasn't okay with the new living arrangements. >> he showed up at my apartment in the middle of the night. >> middle of the night? >> uh-huh. >> while you're asleep, and
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then -- >> yes. because he had a key. >> where is he? you're -- you're -- you're in the bed -- >> i woke up and he was standing in my bedroom. >> that was it, the final straw in what tandy saw as nick's scary transformation. >> i was angry. so i told him that. that made me want my key back. i didn't want him to have a key anymore. >> when you give a girlfriend a key back, that's really the end of it. that's -- >> right. >> over and out. it was september. garrett had one month to live. the unwelcome drop-in, as well as tandy's other stories about nick made police suspicious. but what to make of her account? >> she tells a story about looking up from her bed in the middle of the night, midnight or later, and there's nick. >> that's what she says. that is not a substantiated account. that is her -- her saying that this happened. >> investigators started knocking on doors all over >> family, friends, relatives. they all immediately thought, well, there's only one person that we can think of that might do something to garrett, and that was nick hillary. >> that he has reason to have a grudge against garrett, what, for breaking up this relationship? >> essentially, yeah. >> still wants to be with the mom? >> yep. >> tandy's parents gave statements to police.
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her mother wrote -- he kept telling me it was tandy's fault they broke up and that garrett was a factor. >> nick had gone to her parents to basically lobby them to help -- help me get back in tandy's good graces. i'm good for garrett. i'm good for her. you know, help them see the light. >> as investigators continued targeting nick, they say they still had the other ex-boyfriend, fellow cop john jones, on their radar. >> he provided a dna swab, fingerprints, let us photograph his shirt up and his pants up, and -- pretty much, whatever you need me to do, i'll do it. >> besides his eagerness to cooperate, police say his timeline -- with corroborating security video -- checked out. he's seen walking his dog around 5:13, about the time the officer arrived at garrett's apartment. >> i'm sorry, but nobody goes over to somebody's house to strangle somebody with their dog and then jumps out the window with their dog. >> so police dropped jones as a suspect. and even though tandy had had a bad break-up with jones, she told police garrett and jones were very close. >> what about john jones?
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>> absolutely not. >> wasn't possible? >> no. >> for tandy, it always was nick, and only nick, in the frame for the crime. police would continue investigating, but by day two pressure seemed to be mounting for a quick resolution. >> even the next morning, the chief of police there in potsdam indicated to another investigator that they had a pretty hot suspect, and that they were lining up whatever evidence they could to try to make an arrest. >> that conversation was recorded by the potsdam p.d., a routine procedure for calls in an out of the department. >> we got a 12-year-old that's lost his life. we got to lock somebody up. >> and we have a strong suspect at this point. um, and uh, we're just trying to get all of the ammunition against him at this point we can. >> so 24 hours after the murder, lt. mark murray, working his first homicide as lead investigator, went to observe nick on the sideline at clarkson's soccer game against suny-potsdam. remember, police believed the killer may have sustained a leg injury jumping from that second-floor window. would nick be limping? coming up -- >> were you aware the cops were running a camera on you as you coached the team? >> i had no idea.
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>> coach hillary -- secretly taped. did you think you saw a hitch in his gait? >> definitely. i put it in my search warrant affidavit. i observed a significant limp. >> and strongly questioned. >> am i a suspect in this thing? >> a man was treated like an animal and that's not allowed in the united states. >> when "dateline" continues. >> a man was treated like an animal and that's not allowed in the united states. >> when "dateline" continues. ontinues all of that extra toilet paper was a good idea, but now you've flushed it all. and it's building up in your septic tank. but monthly usage of rid-x is scientifically proven to break down waste. maintain your septic tank with rid-x.
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what your case could be worth. you u mit bebe sprisised >> not long after garrett ♪ the barnes firm injury attorneys ♪ ♪ call one eight hundred, eight million ♪ phillips had been strangled, his mother told investigators nick hillary is your killer. and now police were urgently investigating the soccer coach. the night after the murder, a team led by lt. mark murray aimed a video camera at nick, as he prowled the sidelines while coaching a soccer game. they were looking for a limp, which would match their theory that the killer may have been injured leaping from that second-story window. >> the police had interviewed some other individuals at this point, and he's known to be an active guy on the sidelines. he's not doing that here. >> after videotaping nick throughout the game, police were convinced they saw what they came to see. did you think you saw a hitch in his gait that night?
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>> definitely. i put it in my search warrant affidavit. i observed the significant limp when he went off at halftime, i observed what i observed to be a limp. >> were you aware that the cops were running a camera on you as you coached the team? >> i had no idea. >> nick said he was focused on beating cross-town rival suny-potsdam, a big game. >> you're going to be seeing these guys around town. this is a game that we must win. >> he said he had nothing to do with garrett's death so he had no reason to think he was a suspect that night, or the next morning, when police asked him to come down to the potsdam pd and help their investigation. for what purpose? >> to see if i could identify a list of garrett's friends. >> are any of the kids in his grade monsters compared to him? or no? >> but then the conversation veered away from the list and kids. >> i mean you're here to help me with something i'm clueless about. >> so i'm clueless about it as well. >> nick seemed surprised by the cops'line of questioning. >> the questions i am being
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asked right now is not the questions i come down here to answer. >> what we would like to do is eliminate you as being part of this whole thing. >> am i a suspect in this thing? >> no. we -- what we would like to do -- we know -- >> you're using the word eliminate. it's a big word. >> everybody's a suspect to us. this whole town's a suspect. >> nick now realized he was being accused. he shut down. >> what time was practice on monday? do you remember? >> i have no comment. >> no comments on when practice was? >> jesse mckinley covered the story for "the new york times." >> i think at that point his argument would be i was scared. this was a scary situation. i seemed to be being singled out for a crime that i didn't commit. >> but lieutenant murray had a different take. he believed nick was not cooperating and for no good reason. >> he said, no comment. and i remember thinking to myself, you know, everyone else here is giving us any information, whether it's relevant or not. if the roles were reversed, i would be doing anything in my power to help figure out what happened to garrett. >> you have the right to remain
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silent. >> nick was then read his miranda rights. >> the two officers got up and barred the door, told me that i'm not allowed to leave. >> but you hadn't been arrested? >> was never arrested, i'm being held against my will. >> police were zeroing in on nick, and they were asking tough questions to his assistant coach, ian fairlie, at the same time. fairlie told them he had seen nick shortly after 5:00 p.m. the afternoon of the murder and he was acting normally. >> and this was supposedly ten minutes after he'd strangled someone to death. >> you're not trying to cover for him, right? i mean i know you guys are buddies, but -- >> no, i'm trying to be as honest as i can. >> all right. i'm going to be honest with you. it kind of looks like he did it. i don't know if you believe me or not, like if you believe he's capable of something like that. >> i don't think he would be capable of something like that. i mean actually i absolutely don't believe he would be capable of something like that. >> meanwhile, nick had asked for a lawyer. he was detained but still hadn't been arrested. police took his phone, wallet and car while they were waiting for a judge to sign a search warrant.
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for a proud army vet and prominent member of the college community, nick said his treatment was humiliating. >> they took my clothes. >> looking for what, scratches, cut marks? >> only they would know. >> so how long did this day last? >> seems like an eternity. >> then, after about nine hours inside, police released him. >> this was from early in the mornings till about after 5:00 when i was released in a hazmat suit. >> you didn't get your clothes back? >> nothing. didn't have keys to go into my apartment, didn't have my wallet with any kind of identification if i should get stopped in the street to identify who i am. it's an inhumane way to be treated. >> the next day he felt branded in his own community. >> and there was a big spread in the newspaper clearly stating that the police had
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questioned me. >> realizing he was the prime suspect and perhaps the only suspect, nick started to fight back with the help of a good friend who happened to be a lawyer, former teammate mani tafari. >> yeah, this was tunnel vision. the powers that be that wanted to get mr. hillary for this always had that intention. >> nick told us that he wasn't at garrett's apartment that day. and he denied the accusations tandy had made to police. >> saying that there was bad blood between you and garrett. >> that's very, very shocking and surprising. >> did you ever have a butt head moment with him, nick? >> no. >> an issue of do the homework, or do the chores? >> no. no. >> october 2011. how were things with you and tandy? >> things were great between tandy and i. >> but not boyfriend-girlfriend? >> but not boyfriend and girlfriend. >> did you want to get back with tandy? >> no. >> did you have a key to her house still? >> no, i didn't. >> and by this point, nick and his lawyer had also seen that sideline video police had shot
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of nick the night after the murder. to them it was eye-opening. they said it didn't show what police said it did, a significant limp. >> that turned out to be untrue. >> watch as nick strides off the field at halftime. he doesn't appear to be limping at all. >> i had no limp. i was myself that night on the sideline with the exception of a heavy heart because of what had happened to garrett. >> and like the soccer champions they were, nick and mani were not only playing defense, they went on offense too, blasting police for what nick says they did to him at the station. >> a man was treated like an animal, and that's not allowed in the united states. >> so they vowed to sue the village of potsdam and its police department for violating nick's civil rights. >> we live in a country where when rights are violated citizens can stay silent and continue to have those rights violated, or you can stand up. >> coming up -- a startling new videotape clue.
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garrett on his way home. and whose suv was that seeming to follow him? >> is that nick hillary in his car in that parking lot? >> when "dateline" continues. ♪♪ thousands of women with metastatic breast cancer are living in the moment and taking ibrance. ibrance with an aromatase inhibitor is for postmenopausal women or for men with hr+, her2- metastatic breast cancer as the first hormonal based therapy. ibrance plus letrozole significantly delayed disease progression versus letrozole. ibrance may cause low white blood cell counts that may lead to serious infections. ibrance may cause severe inflammation of the lungs. both of these can lead to death. tell your doctor if you have new or worsening chest pain, cough, or trouble breathing. before taking ibrance, tell your doctor if you have fever, chills, or other signs of infection, liver or kidney problems,
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potsdam was in mourning. schools emptied out for a memorial service for garrett phillips, that sixth-grader so exuberant in his 12 years of life. then, later that week, the funeral at this church. for his mother, tandy, it was all a blur. >> i remember being at the church. i remember being at the funeral home. it's just a lot of people. >> garrett was laid to rest in the nearby town where his mother grew up. he's buried next to the father he barely knew. >> is it true you buried him with the ripstick?
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>> yes. >> that was mom's decision? what do you think that says about who that little boy was? >> you know, that and his lacrosse stick were his most prized possessions. so i wanted him to have them. >> she said goodbye to her boy, but now, as police continued to zero in on nick hillary, she hoped to get answers for him. >> did you know that they had brought nick in for questioning? >> yes. >> do you think there's going to be an arrest at that point, tandy? >> i had thought there was going to be one very quickly. >> but nick hillary was just as adamant he was an innocent man, hounded, he claims, by a blinkered rush-to-judgement investigation that didn't turn up any evidence because he didn't do it. >> why did they believe that you were their person of interest? >> i wish i knew. >> police were trying to make a case against him, though in the months that followed search warrants on nick's home, phone,
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and car yielded nothing. forensics came back and did not match nick for hair or fibers. techs did find fingerprints around that pushed-out window, but they matched no one known to the case. and the imprint in the slushy grass below? useless. even initial tests on dna scrapings taken beneath the boy's fingernail proved inconclusive. and what's more, two people were vouching for nick's whereabouts around the time of the murder. >> i was with my -- my daughter and my assistant coach during this time period. >> so they are what they call in criminal investigations your alibi witnesses? >> exactly. >> nick's teenaged daughter would say in a deposition that her dad was with her at their apartment here on leroy street from 5:00 to 5:15 p.m. assistant coach fairlie said nick came to his house here on garden street around 5:21.
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their accounts would seem to make it impossible for nick to have been here on market street about 5:00 p.m. when garrett was being attacked. >> there were no arrests. there was no grand jury. there's no indictments. there's nothing. they really were kind of at -- at their wits'end in a sense. >> police did pull up security video around potsdam, and they noticed a car that looked like nick's honda crv, creeping through the high school parking lot around the time garrett was to skate by. but the camera shots were too far away to i.d. plates or the driver. despite the continuing lack of hard physical evidence against him, in the court of public opinion, nick was a marked man. >> being out and about in the community, fingers are being
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pointed. conversations are being whispered. people will drive past our house and call me a murderer. my house has been egged. >> that's something he maintains to this day. that he has been made a pariah in that community which he felt a part of. >> this black male being singled out in this most white part of the world. >> absolutely. and i think to some extent nick's case fits into that narrative of a black man falsely accused. >> but unlike the stalled criminal investigation, nick's lawyer mani tafari was moving ahead with the civil lawsuit against lieutenant murray and the potsdam police. a suit filed for detaining nick all day without arresting him, and allegedly degrading him by taking photographs of him naked. >> mr. hillary could have held his head down and ran away. he believes in civil rights. he believes in his rights as a man. and he's going to stand up for those rights. >> i did not violate his rights in any way, shape, or form. i executed a lawful search warrant of his person while he was at our station. >> lieutenant murray and the
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potsdam police department deny the allegations in the civil suit. and potsdam's insurance company hired tom mortati to defend the police. believing that the best defense is a good offense, mortati decided to turn the tables on nick and his lawyer. >> so what's your strategy? >> to prove that nick killed garrett phillips. >> and therefore, your clients, the cops, were justified in doing everything they did that he thought was a deprivation of his rights. >> bottom line, yes. >> a preliminary step in these cases, before the lawsuit is actually filed, is a proceeding called a 50-h hearing in which the defense attorney, in this case tom, gets to question the plaintiff, nick hillary. >> does he have to answer? >> no. he can assert his fifth amendment privilege. >> april 2012. tom purposely picked a
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non-descript conference room in potsdam's municipal building for nick's deposition. he chose not to videotape it. >> i wanted to keep it low-key. 'cause in the event he's talking, i want him to keep talking. >> how did it go? >> well, mr. hillary was talking. >> tom's main goal was to get nick to admit that he was in the car seen on that security camera video. up until then police had suspicions, but no proof. >> unlike the movies, you can't zoom in on the license plate or let's -- let's zoom in on the guy's eyeglasses and oh, that's -- that's so-and-so behind the wheel. it doesn't work that way. so the number one question at that time was, is that nick hillary in his car in that parking lot? >> so tom asked a series of questions and, to his surprise, nick readily answered them. mr. hillary, at any point on october 24th of 2011, were you at potsdam high school? yes. how did you get there?
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i drove. did you drive the honda? yes. and why was nick at the high school on that rainy day? he said it was to watch a soccer game. but notice the yellow school bus, it's blocking his view. >> his vision of the soccer field's obscured by a giant yellow school bus, the concession stand and the stands next to the field. you can't see the soccer field. >> coming up -- an admission under oath. >> and he didn't take the fifth, and the police are ecstatic with what we've got. >> and -- >> it was the thing i had prayed for. >> make way for a new d.a. >> she was going to do everything she could to bring justice for garrett. >> exactly what would that be? >> i was alarmed a little bit. >> when "dateline" continues. [ chuckles ] don't get me wrong, i love my rv, but insuring it is such a hassle. same with my boat. the insurance bills are through the roof. -[ sighs ] -be cool. i wish i could group my insurance stuff. -[ coughs ] bundle. -the house, the car, the rv. like a cluster. an insurance cluster. -woosah. -[ chuckles ] -i doubt that exists. -it's a bundle! it's a bundle, and it saves you money! hi. i'm flo from progressive, and i couldn't help but overhear... super fun beach day, everybody. it's a simple fact: nothing kills more germs on more surfaces but overhear... than lysol spray. it's a simple fact: it even kills the covid-19 virus. science supports these simple facts. there's only one true lysol. lysol. what it takes to protect.
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defending the potsdam police department in a civil lawsuit brought by nick hillary. at a preliminary hearing nick had just confirmed that it was him in this car, seen on security camera video at the high school. nick said he was there to watch a game. but in the footage a school bus seems to block his view. the honda slowly moves, settling into this parking spot, red taillights on. but from there nick still can't see the game. nor does he try to get a closer look. >> he never gets out of his
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car. he never shuts the vehicle off. >> so why was he really there? the answer, according to tom, was about to skate into view. at 4:52 p.m., here comes garrett at the bottom of the screen. cruising down the sidewalk on his ripstik, blissfully unaware that in just a few minutes he'll be viciously attacked and left for dead. after about 16 seconds on camera he skates out of frame, turning left on his way home. >> nick's brake lights come on within a second of garrett going out of view. and he backs his vehicle out. >> but nick did not admit to following garrett. he didn't admit to even seeing garrett. instead he told tom -- >> i went home. i went straight home. i didn't stop anywhere else. >> which, nick acknowledged, should be with a right turn out of the parking lot. but when his honda reached the t-intersection, a crossroads for this case, nick didn't go right. instead, he turned left, going in the same direction as garrett. six months after garrett's death, this civil lawyer had breathed new life into a
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dormant murder investigation, extracting what seemed like powerful new evidence from the prime suspect. but would it be enough for the >> he didn't take the fifth, and the police are ecstatic with what they got. >> but the person he had to convince was nicole duve, the then district attorney for st. lawrence county. so he sent her the transcript of nick's deposition whereinhe school parking lot and which seemed to be tailing garrett before he was killed. but the d.a. said it still wasn't enough. >> she believed there was not enough evidenced to convict nick hillary let alone arrest him. >> not a winnable case. >> not a winnable case. >> the d.a. met with tandy and told her the same thing. >> she used like a scale as example and it was one little pebble at a time and they just didn't have enough yet. >> she couldn't get enough pebbles to tilt it this way. >> right. >> the case went into a deep freeze and it seemed like it might stay there.
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>> in that town, this sort of crime is so out of the ordinary, so unheard of, that the fact that they were not able to find someone quickly and make a case quickly and convict them quickly and put this behind them has been enormously frustrating. >> tandy, frustration. what is your word about how you feel? >> i don't know if i can say it on camera. just the level of frustration is -- there's no words really. >> out of frustration and sorrow, garrett's family, led by his uncle brian, put up "justice for garrett" signs all over the county. the message from a smiling garrett was both subtle and direct -- do the right thing. >> brian was very close with his brother robbie, garrett's dad. so we lost robbie. and then losing garrett the way that we did, brian's never stopped. >> he wouldn't let this become
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a cold case. >> never. >> and then in 2013 mary rain, a former cop and public defender, decided to run for district attorney. >> politics has raised its head here. >> absolutely. and her prime campaign theme if you will is there's a murderer running around and nobody's done anything about it. >> the only thing i would promise is that would be my top agenda as soon as i got into office. so i spoke with tandy the next day and we talked for about two hours. >> you didn't promise her results. you promised her your professional interest. >> exactly. i promised her i would put a lot of work and energy into it. >> tandy took to the stump to campaign for mary. >> she was interested in your case? >> yes. >> passionate about it? >> very. she was going to do everything she could to bring justice for garrett. >> ten days before election day, mary knew she still had ground to make up if she had any hope of becoming the new d.a. >> and you needed something. >> you know, help from up above,
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that never hurts. >> she calls it her campaign miracle. >> i was in church one morning. i sat there and i said, you know god, i need some help. >> and help came that same day, when according to tandy the incumbent d.a., while out campaigning, unwittingly walked up to her house. >> she had no idea that she was door-belling -- >> well, she looked -- >> -- the mother of the boy. >> yeah, she saw my sign in the, in the yard. and she was trying to change their minds or their opinions to vote for her. and then she realized where she was. and she left. >> tandy was incensed because she says the d.a. refused an invitation to speak with her and instead just walked away. tandy took to facebook to vent -- someone just paid a visit to my house that left me feeling like my family is very unimportant! >> how did it feel to hit "send? " >> good and a little scary. i'm not the type to rant on facebook. i generally stay away from the -- the drama side of it. but i was angry. >> and once i read that facebook post, i thought, who does that?
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and i immediately private-messaged tandy, and i said, this just makes me cry. and she said, there is no crying. but that's hard to get past. >> tandy let mary re-post the incident to her facebook friends, and from there it went viral. >> it was the thing i had prayed for. >> a big news splash in the county. >> kind of a political stumble. you know, it makes nicole duve look like she didn't have a handle on things. that if she didn't even know where the victim's mother lived, how could she find the victim's killer? >> on election night the voters spoke. mary rain came from behind to win -- the d.a.'s job, 52%-48%. the two potsdam voters with perhaps the greatest rooting interest in the outcome had opposite reactions. >> i felt relief. i felt like something was finally going to happen. >> i was alarmed a little bit, not surprised. >> the new d.a., as promised, immediately plunged into this
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confounding case, and she'd soon get lucky again and come up with something her predecessor never had, the prime suspect under oath, but this time on video. coming up/ -- nick hillary's hazy memory. >> i cannot recall. >> i cannot recall. >> i cannot recall. >> if people remember why they broke up with their high school girlfriend, you can't remember why this relationship broke up? >> investigators wanted to know, did he have something to hide? >> can you describe your relationship with garrett up until the point you and she ms. cyrus broke up? >> do you know if they're like you? >> he never said he disliked me. >> when dateline continues. movements called tardive dyskinesia - td. and it can seem like that's all people see. some meds for mental health can cause abnormal dopamine
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signaling in the brain. while how it works is not fully understood, ingrezza is thought to reduce that signaling. ingrezza is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with td movements in the face and body. people taking ingrezza can stay on their current dose of most mental health meds. don't take ingrezza if you're allergic to any of its ingredients. ingrezza may cause serious side effects, including sleepiness. don't drive, operate heavy machinery, or do other dangerous activities until you know how ingrezza affects you. other serious side effects include potential heart rhythm problems and abnormal movements. shift the focus more on you. ask your doctor about ingrezza. it's simple. one pill, once-daily. #1 prescribed for td. learn how you could pay as little as $0 at mary rain took office as the
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county's new d.a. in january 2014, and the first file that
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she cracked open, as she had promised in the campaign, was the garrett phillips case. >> and i'm disheartened to see a folder, a lone folder, sitting in the office, which is about this thick. and i realize this is a murder investigation. it's deficient. >> but the file was about to get a huge addition. tom mortati was just weeks away from putting nick hillary under oath again in the civil lawsuit nick brought against police. >> i prayed, honestly, for -- for some guidance and to -- to just to be able to do my job and to help in whatever way that i can. >> this time lieutenant murray and his chief, who both happen to be defendants in the lawsuit, would be sitting in on the deposition, taking notes for their criminal investigation. and nick would be on video. >> how are you going to advance your story? what's the strategy? >> well, i want him to reaffirm all of the things that he's previously told me under oath. >> yes, that is my car. i'm driving it. >> right. i want him to be saying it on camera because the whole purpose of videotaping this had nothing to do with the civil case at all. this is totally about -- this video is going to be
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played in front of a grand jury someday and a criminal jury someday. >> acting as de facto prosecutor, tom would be mary rain's best chance to get justice for garrett. >> good morning, mr. hillary. >> tom, heard off-camera, asked the questions. nick hillary's attorney, mani tafari, also off-camera, was raising objections to protect an appeal. still nick did go on to answer almost everything. >> at some point, did that relationship that you had with miss cyrus end? >> objection. relevance. >> yes. >> but when the questions turned personal, nick seemed to get a case of amnesia. >> did you approach miss cyrus and discuss with her the possibility of breaking up? >> i cannot recall. >> did miss cyrus ever discuss with you her two boys'relationship with you as a basis for ending the relationship? >> i cannot recall. >> if she had told you that that's why she wanted to end the -- the relationship, is that something you think you would
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have remembered? >> objection. >> i cannot recall. >> people remember why they broke up with their high school girlfriend. you know, you can't remember why this relationship with a woman you lived with for seven or eight months broke up? >> tandy had said she broke up with nick because garrett hated his rules. and this is the heart of the theory of motivation in this crime. >> exactly. >> that garrett is dead because nick hillary believes that he was an obstacle in the way of him ever being with tandy, that the boy had caused the breakup. >> right. it goes to motive. it goes to what's his underlying state of mind. >> can you describe for me your relationship with garrett up until the point in time where you and miss cyrus broke up? >> objection. relevance. >> we had a positive relationship. >> do you know if garrett liked you? >> he never said he disliked me. >> tom also probed nick about his behavior after tandy moved out. >> did you ever show up in ms. cyrus's apartment in the late evening hours, letting yourself in on your own? >> no. >> if ms. cyrus has provided a sworn deposition to the police
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indicating that that did in fact, occur, was she lying when she gave that testimony? >> yes. >> police had a theory that the killer was injured in the escape leap, and they claimed they had video of nick limping at the soccer game the next night. when tom asked him about it, nick admitted he had injured his ankle. but said it happened before garrett was killed. >> mr. hillary, at any point prior to october 24th of 2011, did you suffer an injury to either one of your lower legs? >> objection. relevance. >> yes. >> can you tell me the circumstances under which that occurred? >> i was moving furniture around in my new apartment. >> approximately when did that occur? >> objection. relevance. >> i cannot recall. >> what kind of piece of furniture was it? >> objection. relevance. >> i cannot recall. >> did you trip over the piece of furniture or drop something on you or something else? >> objection. relevance. asked and answered. >> i cannot recall. >> mani tafari maintains nick's ankle injury had no connection to the crime or the crime scene. >> if there were abrasions, we
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should have some dna that's linking mr. hillary to this. and we do not. >> as in the first deposition, tom asked nick to describe his route home on the day of garrett's murder. but this time, nick suggested that if he turned left, it would have been to visit his assistant coach. >> typically if i make a left out the parking lot, i would be checking in with my assistant coach who lived on garden street, which is what i would normally do. >> is that what you did that afternoon? >> i cannot recall. >> you don't rec to mr. fairlie's apartment on garden street that afternoon? >> that is correct. >> and i interrupt him and say, well, wait a minute, you've already told me previously under oath a year and a half ago you didn't go anywhere else. >> you didn't make any stops anywhere on your way between leaving potsdam high school and going to your apartment that afternoon. do you recall giving that testimony at your 50-h examination? >> if that's what i said, that's what i said. >> if you turned left out of the parking lot to go home to your apartment, what route did you take? >> objection.
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>> i cannot recall. >> when it was over, tom mortati had a gift for the new d.a., mary rain, more than six hours of nick on tape, under oath. everything he said. everything he couldn't recall. so rare from a prime suspect who was not talking to police. >> i've always described this as the o.j. case backwards. you know, in o.j. you had a criminal trial, and then there was a civil case. and here, it -- the exact opposite happened. >> you have regrets about going the civil route in the midst of this criminal case? >> i regret that mr. hillary was targeted due to his race. and i have no control over that. that is the only regret i have in this entire situation. >> d.a. rain, who had campaigned on getting justice for garrett, now believed she had enough evidence to take to grand jury. but in a perplexing case that still had gaping holes, no dna, no forensics, no eyewitnesses, this road to indictment would hit an unexpected pothole.
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coming up -- a bold new strategy. >> you take samples of dna that previously would have been cast aside and attempt to make sense of them. >> prosecutors wondered, could nick's dna really be at the crime scene after all? when "dateline" continues. shaq? remember when you were telling us to check out the general for car insurance, and we all thought you were losing it, so we left you deep in the woods? turns out you were right about the general. i just misjudged them based on their commercials. they're actually a quality insurance company that's been saving people money for nearly 60 years. i'm pretty sure i said all of that. our bad, let's get out of here. five more minutes, my skunk is almost done. oooh, is that what i smell? for a great low rate, and nearly 60 years of quality coverage - make the right call and go with the general. we're eating and drinking foods and beverages that are very acidic. and nearly 60 years of quality coverage - it can soften the enamel. pronamel repair, what it's doing is driving more minerals deep into the enamel surface,
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2 1/2 years after garrett phillips skated home for the last time, d.a. mary rain was finally putting the case before a grand jury. her key piece of evidence? >> if i make a left out the parking lot -- >> nick hillary's own words from his video deposition for his lawsuit against the potsdam police. no one can talk about grand jury arguments, but the civil deposition, safe to say, was very important. >> extremely important. we couldn't have put him in the places where he put himself. >> on may 15th nick hillary was indicted and arrested. >> 100% innocent. >> charged with second-degree murder, he was led away in handcuffs by lead investigator mark murray. >> no ruckus? no to-do? >> no ruckus, no to-do. just us walking nick into the station. >> nothing, however, has been ordinary in this extraordinary case. five months later, a judge threw out that indictment on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. >> the judge in the case decides that mary rain acted
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inappropriately. that she injected opinion. that she obviously was not pursuing justice, per se, but was pursuing nick. >> the judge read transcripts of the proceedings and determined that the d.a. bullied nick's daughter, an alibi witness, asking her the same question 13 times. >> it's cross-examination. there was no bullying. he's not there. he doesn't know my tone of voice. so he's surmising something that just didn't occur. >> mary rain had taken a legal roundhouse blow to the chin, but she got up to fight again. there was no question you were going to refile it. >> absolutely no question at all. >> using the same evidence, but toning it down, the d.a. won another indictment, and this one stuck. tandy felt finally vindicated. you believe nick hillary killed your boy? >> yes. >> for what reason, tandy?
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>> i mean, for whatever reason, he did not like my son. he was a problem for him. he was in his way. >> meanwhile, nick hillary was gearing up for his biggest match ever. his very freedom was at stake. >> i have stated that since day one, i'm 100% innocent. >> nick's old friends and supporters had helped him make bail, although, in potsdam he faced visible reminders of the strong feelings against him at every turn. lawn signs are everywhere in your town, "justice for garrett." what do you think? they're everywhere. >> they're everywhere. i mean, for my own sanity, i have told myself "justice for garrett" sign is a good thing because i need justice for garrett. >> but justice of any kind was grinding slowly. and the case was attracting attention. two legal heavyweights from new
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york city joined nick's team. norman siegel, a civil rights lawyer, and earl ward, a celebrated criminal defense attorney. >> for people like that to be involved in the case shows you that the case is echoing beyond. >> is this shaping up as another test of racial justice in the criminal justice system? >> i think for the defense team they don't believe that nick did this and they think he's being railroaded. and they feel that part of that has to do with his race. i think for mary rain and the prosecution team that is the last thing that they want. they want this to be a murder trial. and they want this to be about a 12-year-old boy who lost his life at the hands of a killer. >> nick's supporters, including his former teammates, remained adamant that their friend was innocent. >> it's not possible. i mean he's just -- he's such a caring and compassionate, loving person. he's been around kids his entire life. >> even on the worst day of his life, something happened, you can't get there, huh? >> not a chance. >> these teammates are among
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countless friends and supporters behind the website "truth for nick hillary." they dipped into their pockets and helped fund his defense and also paid his everyday bills once he was fired as soccer coach after his arrest. and you're now putting your money where your sentiments are? >> uh, yeah, all these guys are. >> yeah, we've had hundreds of people on the donation site itself contribute whatever they can. >> a trial date was set for september 2016. nick's teammates would stand by him in open court. so it's in championship season again. >> this is -- >> this is more than a ring now. >> this is more than a ring. you know, this is, this is, this is life and death. >> but first, both sides braced for a summertime fight that could tilt the balance. it was over dna. did it exist? was it nick's? and whatever it was, was it even admissible? no hair, tissue, or fingerprint belonging to nick was found at the crime scene. and testing on that tiny mix of dna under one of garrett's fingernails had been inconclusive.
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>> the initial sampling of this, the initial testing of this, showed that it could neither include nor exclude nick hillary. >> so with traditional dna chemistry not implicating nick, prosecutors opted for something revolutionary, a new kind of computer-driven dna analysis from a company in new zealand. >> whereby you take samples of dna that previously would have been cast aside because they were too small, they were too difficult to analyze properly. you take those samples and attempt to make sense of them using a computer algorithm. >> prosecutors said the new tests came back a match for nick. not so fast, argued the defense. too unorthodox. too unreliable. >> after every reputable organization or testing sites told them, look, there's nothing connecting this guy, they went to a different continent, to new zealand, to try to get something to stick, and it didn't stick. >> in the end, the judge agreed with the defense.
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pretrial he ruled that the prosecution could not use the newfangled dna analysis, a major setback. do you still have a case, absent that science? >> we still can do it based on the other evidence that we have. >> to be determined, as they say, setting the stage for nick hillary to, at last, have his day in court. the trial, finally, was about to get under way. >> i think that it has taken so long to find justice for garrett, as it were, that this has become one of those stories that people will talk about for a very long time, regardless of how the verdict turns out. coming up -- >> i will continue to fight until i don't have anything left. inside of me to fight. >> nick and tandy face-to-face. you're going to be going up to the stand, and inside the rail will be nick hillary. are you ready for that moment? >> i am. >> the showdown begins. >> every single fact in this case points to him. >> i'm 100% innocent of the
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accusations that i'm facing. >> and you could have heard a pin drop in that courtroom. >> when "dateline" continues. i don't just play someone brainy on tv - i'm an actual neuroscientist. and i love the science behind neuriva plus. unlike ordinary memory supplements, neuriva plus fuels six key indicators of brain performance. more brain performance? yes, please! neuriva. think bigger. five long years after garrett
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phillips was killed, the case of new york state v. nick hillary went to trial. nick and tandy, former lovers, would be together in the same courtroom. you're going to be going up to the stand. and inside the rail will be nick hillary. are you ready for that moment? >> i am. >> as tandy readied to face her ex-boyfriend in court, nick came face-to-face with the possibility of a conviction. >> there you'll be given another jumpsuit, put in a van, and taken away. >> i would fight and i will continue to fight until i don't
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have anything left inside of me to fight, just the same way i'm fighting right now. >> the trial was shaping up as a battle between seasoned, successful attorneys. the venerable team of earl ward and norman siegel for the defense. for the state, d.a. mary rain asked bill fitzpatrick, a renowned prosecutor from another county, to take the lead in court. so you bring in fitzpatrick from down in syracuse for what reason? >> well, bill fitzpatrick has over 75 homicide prosecutions himself. he's been a prosecutor for over 24 years, and i've been a prosecutor for over two. >> almost immediately, a courtroom bombshell. ten jurors had been quickly selected, all white, when nick and his defense team made a shocking announcement. they were opting for a bench trial, letting judge felix catena decide nick's future. "new york times" reporter jesse mckinley. >> i think their calculation was, we're better off going with a legal mind, someone that knows the law. >> so they're arguing it to the judge? he will be the judge and the jury in this.
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>> absolutely. [gavel] >> good morning, everybody. please be seated. mr. fitzpatrick, your opening statement. >> thank you very much, your honor. >> bill fitzpatrick laid out the state's case, painting a portrait of nick hillary as a scorned lover and a liar. he said nick's own words from his video deposition given under oath would nail him. >> the only reason he has to lie is because he was killing garrett. >> but longtime civil rights attorney siegel said nick is an innocent man and could prove he was home at the exact time garrett was being attacked. >> you can't be in two places at the same time. and nick hillary went home. >> it was all part of a rush to judgment by police, argued siegel. >> there is naturally a cry for justice. a cry for someone to be held accountable. but it must be the right person. nick hillary is not the right person.
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>> after opening arguments, cameras were removed for all testimony. the prosecution called the victim's mother to the stand as its lead-off witness. tandy told the judge what she'd told us, that nick was unhappy about her breaking up their relationship. >> she was absolutely cool as a cucumber. she rarely let emotion get to her. she was a very controlled, very competent witness. >> and she testified about the times, she said, nick let himself into her apartment uninvited. >> i was getting very annoyed with the fact that he wouldn't leave me alone. >> he obsessed about the breakup. >> next, the prosecution presented evidence that garrett died from a choke hold, a ghastly combination of strangulation and asphyxiation. rug burns on garrett's legs and red marks on his neck pointed to a desperate struggle. it was a crime of passion, insisted fitzpatrick, pointing to nick as the only person hostile to garrett. >> this is somebody that chokes
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the life with a high degree of hatred of a 12-year-old boy. >> he talks about an amicable breakup. >> it was not amicable at that point because he was not happy. tandy was amicable, but he was not. he was very, very angry. >> prosecutors used video to try to prove their case, a one-two punch of nick hillary on camera. they played for the judge the security video of nick's honda in the high school parking lot, as they saw it, stalking garrett. >> that's the most important witness in this case. a neutral camera sitting on top of a school. critical video of nick, under oath, from his deposition in his civil case. >> something happens, which i will affectionately refer to as the gift that keeps on giving. that person is telling lies, frankly, too numerous to catalog. >> one lie, according to the
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state, involved nick's damaged ankle. remember, during his deposition nick said he hurt it before garrett's death. >> mr. hillary, at any point prior to october 24th of 2011, did you suffer an injury to either one of your lower legs? >> objection, relevance. >> yes. >> can you tell me the circumstances under which that occurred? >> i was moving furniture around in my new apartment. >> prosecutors attacked that story when the medical examiner took the stand. he commented on photos police took of nick's ankle just two days after garrett was killed. >> his ankle is swollen. it's got a very fresh cut. dr. sikirica, our m.e., said the cut is 24 to 48 hours old. >> a fresh cut, prosecutors theorized, caused by nick's desperate escape leap from garrett's second floor apartment. and then what prosecutors called another lie, the big one at the heart of their case, when nick talked about where he went after driving out of the
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school parking lot just minutes before garrett was choked to death. >> according to him, at least a dozen times under oath, i went straight home back to my daughter. straight home. >> you went straight home after you left the potsdam high school that afternoon, correct? >> yes. >> straight home would have meant turning right. but nick turned left just like garrett. prosecutors laid it out with dramatic flair. here was nick, under oath, caught in a lie confirmed by the video. >> mr. hillary doesn't turn right. he turns left because he's hunting garrett phillips. >> maybe the prosecution's best evidence is this videotape, the journey to the field to look at the soccer team. >> yeah. prosecution says it's their most conclusive piece of evidence. >> rainy day in potsdam. the last few minutes of garrett's life. >> yes.
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and when they were playing that tape, which is about five minutes long in that courtroom, you could've have heard a pin drop. >> the state argued that when nick wasn't lying, he had very suspicious lapses in memory about the day garrett was killed, a convenient forgetfulness, said prosecutors, highlighted by three simple words. >> i cannot recall. >> i cannot recall. >> i cannot recall. >> watch him as he answered "i cannot recall" without even the slightest reflection or effort to try to recall. >> if you start to take these things in sum, in toto, that you have a guy who is not telling the truth. you have a guy who does not have an ironclad alibi. >> and the proof is beyond compelling. it approaches mathematical certainty. every single fact in this case points to him. and at some point coincidences stop being coincidences and they start being proof of guilt. >> it was a circumstantial case, but prosecutors were confident. now the defense would get its turn, and they would aggressively make the case in court that nick hillary had been making for himself from day one.
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>> i'm 100% innocent of the accusations that i'm facing. coming up -- >> you searched his house twice. what did you find? nothing. you searched his car, what you did you find? nothing. you searched his office. what did you find? nothing. >> no evidence, no case? >> this theory is simply not credible on its face. >> the defense comes on strong. >> nick hillary is not a murderer. >> when "dateline" continues. their laundry smells more amazing than ever. isn't that the dog's towel? hey, me towel su towel. more gain scent plus oxi boost and febreze in every gain fling. why hide your skin if dupixent has your moderate-to-severe eczema, or atopic dermatitis under control? hide our skin? not us. because dupixent targets a root cause of eczema, it helps heal your skin from within,
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this past year has felt like a long, long norwegian winter. specialist about dupixent, but eventually, with spring comes rebirth. everything begins anew. and many of us realize a fundamental human need to connect with other like-minded people. welcome back to the world. viking. exploring the world in comfort... once again. nick hillary's high-powered
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legal team of norman siegel and earl ward began their defense by aggressively cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses, starting with tandy cyrus. the defense now acknowledged nick had in fact visited tandy twice in her new apartment, but they got tandy to admit, those visits weren't so scary after all.
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>> those two episodes, prosecutors tried to portray as some type of nefarious behavior on nick's part. but tandy made it clear that these episodes were nothing more than an inconvenience. she testified that on one occasion they slept together. >> the defense's argument, tandy's break-up with nick was hardly the drama she made it out to be. >> they tried to portray it as if nick was this, you know, demon, this -- this awful person who snuck into this woman's bedroom, as i said on my summation, like something out of a horror movie, and hovered above her in the dark as if he was about to do something, you know, evil. when during the cross-examination it came out that that wasn't the case. >> and tandy and other family members also conceded that nick had never laid a hand on garrett while they lived together. >> there was nothing between the two that could be considered hatred. nothing between the two that
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would lead or could lead to murder. >> they have kind of picked away at the prosecution's witnesses enough, it would seem, for them to try to create reasonable doubt, which is all they want to do. that's the game. they want -- >> reasonable doubt. >> reasonable doubt wins their case. >> nick hillary is not a murderer. he is not a violent man. violence is inconsistent with who he is and what he has done in his life. >> now the defense started to paint a different picture of nick hillary -- not the man accused of a heinous crime but the army vet, adored soccer captain, and loving father who could never ever harm a 12-year-old, let alone kill him. >> he's been around kids his entire life. i've seen him interact with 12-year-olds constantly. >> brendan murphy, the gnick he.
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>> he was always there to pick me up and never blame me. and never, you know, yelled at me or made me feel bad about letting a goal in. >> and his lawyers dismissed the prosecution's suggested motive that he killed for revenge. >> this theory is simply not credible on its face. >> there has always been this question as to what this would possibly gain for him. what would be the upside of hurting this kid? >> the defense's biggest point was very simple. there was no physical evidence, none, linking nick hillary to the crime. >> there was no hair. there were no fibers. there was no fingerprints linking nick to this crime. >> and there was testimony from investigators about those unknown fingerprints that were found around that pushed-out window screen. >> you have to ask yourself whose print was on that window. whose print was on the window that that perpetrator climbed out of to escape the building? again, it wasn't nick
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hillary's. >> in an unusual move, the defense called to the stand mark murray, the lead cop on the case, getting him to admit his nearly five-year investigation had failed to turn up any physical evidence against nick in any place. >> brought him forward and said, you searched his house twice. what did you find? nothing. you searched his car. what did you find? nothing. you searched his office two times. what did you find? nothing. >> which made it clear, the defense argued, that police had tunnel vision, starting with the night of the murder, when lieutenant murray and two state cops came to nick's house. >> within hours, as you have heard, i was targeted. would it be fair to say it was a rush to judgment? yes. >> i cannot recall. >> the most damning prosecution evidence against nick had been those videotapes. first, his deposition in the civil suit. >> i cannot recall. >> the defense argued that his inability to answer questions
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then was just a memory lapse, nothing more. >> the statements he made at that deposition were made 27 months after the death of garrett phillips. it is true he often said, i can't recall. but does that make him a murderer? >> and as for the state's centerpiece evidence -- that security camera video where nick appeared to follow garrett out of the high school parking lot, it didn't actually show much of anything, argued the defense. >> the prosecution wants you to make much of this video. but the prosecution wants you to jump to conclusions. >> the camera doesn't record the end of this. >> yeah. there is no videotape that exists anywhere that shows nick hillary pulling up to 100 market street, getting out of his car, and walking up those stairs. >> nick's assertion that he went to his home and not garrett's was bolstered at trial by two alibi witnesses. >> the focus was to show that nick was somewhere else from the period of 5:00 to at least 5:23 and have two alibi
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witnesses that would hold up. >> the first was assistant soccer coach ian fairlie. he testified that nick stopped by his house at 5:21 pm., about 20 minutes after garrett was attacked, according to police estimates. >> did fairlie stick to his guns, to his same story he's told over and over? >> absolutely. and said, as he said to me and other people, that that afternoon when nick hillary walked in that apartment, he wasn't limping, he wasn't sweating, he didn't seem discombobulated, he didn't seem upset. he just seemed like the same old guy. >> but it was shanna kay hillary, nick's daughter, whose testimony would be make-or-break. she testified he was with her at their house in the critical time period of 5:00 to 5:15 p.m., which is the same time young garrett was losing that struggle for his life. >> judge, there is nothing about shanna kay's testimony that was false. she is a strong witness, and she is reasonable doubt.
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cross-examination, prosecutor bill fitzpatrick went after nick's daughter with gusto and got her to admit she didn't remember very much else about that day except for the time her dad was home. >> it will all come down to whether or not the judge believes whether nick was where he said he was. his fate would soon be in thead hands of one man. judge catena would decide. coming up -- >> i'm never going to have my son back. >> my family and i have been living underneath this cloud. >> we're talking murder two. we're talking 25 years to life. >> the judge's verdict. what would it be? when "dateline" continues.
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we're talking murder two. you know, we're talking 25
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years to life. this is not shoplifting. this is a very serious charge. >> the awful question before the court was this. had nick hillary choked the life out of a 12-year-old boy? >> he's been lying about it ever since. >> lead prosecutor bill fitzpatrick had thundered outrage during his closing argument, channeling the emotion of tandy and her family. >> garrett phillips wasn't killed by someone passing through town who hates little boys. he was killed by nick hillary. he wanted to be 12 years old and not be dictated to. and that cost him his life. >> convicting someone because -- >> the defense team had spent three weeks arguing there was simply no evidence against nick. >> i know, judge, that you'll get it right. i know, judge, that after considering all the evidence in this case, you will find mr. hillary not guilty.
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>> the defense had wagered an unusual high-stakes gamble, bypassing a jury and asking the judge to decide. judge and jury and one man, felix catena. a week went by with no decision, an excruciating wait for both sides. then the judge called everyone back to the courthouse to hear his verdict. for 42-year old nick hillary, and his unwavering legion of "truth for nick hillary" supporters, it had been a five-year long slog to clear his name. >> we've been here since day one supporting nick and, you know, staying in his corner. we're not going to stop standing by him now. >> for tandy cyrus, cocooned in a huddle of supportive friends and family, the agonizing wait with all its fits and starts, was finally over. the moment was at hand. >> as to the charge of murder in the second degree as charged
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in the indictment, the defendant, oral nicholas hillary, is found not guilty. [applause] >> not guilty. a quick burst of applause and a cry from nick's side of the room. >> thank you, jesus. >> garrett's uncle shouted out in nick's direction, karma will get you. nick hugged his attorneys, then dissolved in a flood of tears. tandy, a bundle of nerves while waiting for the verdict, was inconsolable. >> d.a. mary rain said she was devastated and spoke of tandy's pain. >> i just simply expressed my condolences, and that was about it. and she said, i know you guys tried. >> tom mortati, the attorney for the potsdam police, addressed the issue of race, which had been hanging over the case from the start. >> race had nothing to do with this investigation. and if any of you actually had an opportunity to meet with some of the investigators involved, you'd know that.
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but i can tell you affirmatively that race had nothing to do with this from the get-go. >> defense attorney earl ward. >> there is a family that even after five years still grieves, so we're not oblivious to that. but nick hillary did not kill garrett phillips. nick hillary is an innocent man. >> love you, man, all right? >> just a few hours after the verdict, nick told us he felt a sense of relief, but would feel the scars of his ordeal for years to come. >> i'm very happy. don't get me wrong. but for five years my family and i have been living underneath this cloud, and the focus right now is to start putting this in the rearview mirror. >> maybe the people in potsdam will try, too, to put this case bind them, but it won't be easy. nick's civil suit against the police is still pending. and small towns don't pivot so easily to normal after an epic drama like this one. >> this case has had a lot of the great elements of fiction. and at the heart of it you have
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this terrible, terrible tragedy, which is the death of a child. >> and that raw hurt never goes away. not to a mother with a broken heart. >> i have pictures in my head that will never go away. i had to watch as people tried to resuscitate my son and failed. i'm never going to have my son back. >> had he lived, had he gotten extra years, who do you think he would have been? >> still the fun-loving kid that he was. and joking and teasing. and i think he would be looking to have a very bright future somewhere as an athlete. >> but the boy is buried now with the artifacts of his brief childhood, including that ripstik. garrett exits forever frame
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left. the mystery surrounding his killing still abides. this sunday, covid, comeback and challenge. >> the jump in cases in a deadly mystery virus. >> nearly a year and a half after the pandemic hit. >> looks like a war zone. >> with a president refusing to face the crisis. >> one person from china. we have it under control. >> it's going to disappear. one day, it's like a miracle. it will disappear. >> and much of the country during into a coast-to-coast er. >> i've treated over a thousand patients myself. >> i couldn't get through the next day of work without breaking down. >> lifesaving vaccines developed in record time came to the rescue.


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