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The Murder of Garrett Phillips: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

In 2011, Garrett Phillips, who was just 12-years-old, was killed in his upstate New York home. For years, no one was named in Phillips’ death.

Tonight, ABC News’ and Dateline will both investigate the 2011 murder of Garrett Phillips. At 9pm, Dateline will air The Accused, which will “focus on law enforcement and community response to the horrific crime”, according to Syracuse.com. Then, ABC News’ 20/20 will interview the accused ex-boyfriend of Phillips’ mother, Oral “Nick” Hillary, for the first time since he was acquitted two days ago.

Here’s what you need to know about the case.


1. 12-Year-Old Garrett Phillips Was Strangled to Death In His Home

Around 5pm on the night of Monday, October 24, Sean Hall and his fiancée, Marisa Vogel, heard a scream, a bang, and then moans, coming from the neighboring apartment. Vogel called the police to tell them what she’d heard, and police arrived at the apartment less than ten minutes later. According to Grantland, Officer Mark Wentworth investigated the apartment at 100 Market Street. When he entered, he found “an adolescent boy, just around the corner, lying on his back in the master bedroom, with his head facing the door. His arms were at his side and his legs close together. He wore a T-shirt and blue-and-white checkered shorts. He looked like he was sleeping.”

After medics rushed the boy to the hospital two blocks away, Wentworth noticed that one of the window blinds in another bedroom had been damaged.

Back in the hospital, Garrett Phillips was pronounced dead at 7:18pm.


2. Garrett’s Mother Has ‘No Doubts’ That Ex-Boyfriend Nick Hillary Killed Her Son

Garrett’s mother, Tandy Cyrus, has said that her son was a gregarious boy who had “absolutely no fear”.

Nick Hillary is the ex-boyfriend of Tandy Cyrus. The night that her son died, she had no idea what had happened. “I was in complete shock”, she told ABC News. Cyrus says that when she showed up at the hospital, her son had bruises all over his face, and Marks on his neck. She told ABC, “…I just remember him looking down at me over the tops of his glasses, telling me that there was nothing else that they could do.”

Cyrus was initially told that Garrett fell. Then, at the hospital, she found out he was in cardiac arrest. It wasn’t until later that Cyrus was finally informed that her son was strangled to death. ABC writes, “Almost immediately, police focused on her ex-boyfriend Hillary as the prime suspect, but it would take them several years before they arrested him for the murder.”

Cyrus and Hillary broke up a few months before Garrett was killed, and Cyrus believes that Hillary “blamed Garrett for the breakup.” ABC News writes, “While Cyrus said she never saw Hillary hit a child, lose his temper with a child or threaten a child during their nearly one year together, she told ’20/20′ that she has no doubt that Hillary killed her son.”

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3. Hillary’s Daughter Was His Main Alibi Witness

On September 21, Hillary’s daughter, Shanna-Kay, took the stand to defend her father.

Police have estimated that Garrett’s murder took place around 5pm– neighbors called the police to complain of hearing strange noises coming from his apartment at 5:07pm.

Shanna-Kay, who is now 19-years-old, has testified that on the day of the murder, she was at Potsdam High School. She attended soccer practice after school, and when she arrived home at 4:30pm, her father was there. At 4:40pm, Shanna-Kay took a shower. Her father said “I’ll be right back” through the door, and when she got out of the shower 20 minutes later, her father was home.

In Shanna-Kay’s cross-examination, the prosecution brought her attention to surveillance footage that showed her walking home at 4:02pm, which would have gotten her home at 4:12pm, and therefore into the shower at 4:22 pm. Prosecutors also referenced two interviews Shanna-Kay gave in 2014 and 2015– in both interviews, she said she ate dinner at 6pm. However, Shanna-Kay’s phone records show she texted her father at 6:24pm, asking “What’s for dinner?”.


4. The Town of Potsdam Is Split Between Those Who Think Hillary Is Innocent and Those Who Think He’s Guilty

Nick Hillary, Garrett Phillips

(Twitter/USANews)

Residents of upstate New York, where Phillips was killed, are reportedly split between those who believe in Hillary’s guilt and those who believe in his innocence. When Hillary was acquitted this week, the judge said that his case was mostly circumstantial and didn’t prove he was guilty without a doubt.


5. Hillary Was Named Innocent Earlier This Week

On Wednesday morning, Hillary was found not guilty by a judge, after a two-week long trial. He has maintained his innocence since day one– telling Elizabeth Vargas, “I have absolutely nothing to do with what has happened to Garrett. Why would I even want to hurt a child, after having worked with kids for over two decades? It just blows my mind.”

Hillary is now a free man, and he cannot be retried. Prosecutors have also said they will not reopen the investigation.

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118 comments

  1. I think nick went to see Garrett to talk him into moving back in with his mom, because he couldn’t stand to lose her due to her son not getting along with him. Somehow the encounter escalated and he killed the boy. He is the only person who had motive. Shame on judge for not seeing that. Nick should be in jail

  2. I don’t think I would have been able to convict someone to 25 years with the evidence provided and with reasonable doubt in mind. However, there is just no other person who appeared to have motive but Mr. Hillary. No other similar crimes in the area. No other apparent suspects. Obviously, I don’t know all the evidence presented only what Dateline revealed. They always hold key evidence back in case someone confesses; only the murderer would have known that key detail to corroborate the confession. I have so many questions that went unanswered: were there any other cameras on buildings, residences, or intersections in route to Mr. Hillary’s house or to Ms. Cyrus’s apartment where the murder occurred. I wish the timeline piece was better presented. How long would it take to get here or get there. Trying to trip up the daughter on her remembrance of whether it was 6 PM or 6:24 PM doesn’t hold much water. Who states it was 6:24 I remember. You say it was about 6 PM. I got home around 4:30, not I got home right at 4:12. I would have liked to examine the Cop boyfriend. He was out and about during that time with no witnesses to confirm his whereabouts and they dismissed him cause he had his dog. It’s easy to tie your dog off somewhere, especially if you are going into a building. Who would take their dog with them to kill someone, someone who know’s how to present themselves as not involved. Someone who wants to be unassuming. Most peoples attention are to the animal and not the person. In my neighborhood we had a lot of mailbox break-ins and people checking for unlocked car doors. Sheriffs confirmed it was often two women or a man and women appearing to walk their dog but really staking out neighborhoods and checking for unlocked car doors. The investigator made the Cop bf roll-up his sleeves and pants to take pictures but made Mr. Hillary strip down. Intuition points to Mr. Hillary but it would have been nice to more questions answered. If it were a violent struggle what was Mr. Hillary wearing that day that he left no evidence. What was the Cop bf wearing. Seems more likely that a trained professional could leave no evidence than Mr. Hillary. I’m not pointing fingers I would have just liked more evidence clearing the Cop bf than just he had his dog with him. Hopefully, the truth comes out one day as to what happened and someone is punished accordingly. Cases like this you sometimes lose sight that a boy lost his life tragically for no f’n reason.