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HBO Documentary 'Who Killed Garrett Phillips?' Explores Bizarre Death Of 13-Year-Old Boy

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Who Was Garrett Phillips? New Details On The Subject Of The New HBO True Crime Documentary

Who was Garrett Phillips? It was a rainy day on October 24, 2011. 12-year-old Garrett Phillips began his five block journey home from school on his skateboard. He, his mother Tandy Cyrus, and his half brother had just moved into the two story walk up after his mother's breakup with boyfriend Nick Hillary. Later that evening, the couple living below the Phillips family heard some concerning noises, so they called the police. When they arrived, they fouund Garrett Phillips on the floor, unconscious. They rushed him to the hospital where he went into full cardiac arrest. He died later that evening. The medical examiner found rug burns on the boy's knees, and bruises on his neck. They determined that Phillips had been strangled. On October 24, 2011, Garrett Phillips was murdered.

The question everyone is asking is Who killed Garrett Phillips?

1. Before the murder

There is video footage of Garrett Phillips leaving school on his skateboard on October 24, 2011 around 4:50pm. He was heading home. Around the same time, Sean Hall and Marissa Vogel, who lived below Phillips were at home watching Dexter (ironically a show about a serial killer). A loud thump which they later said sounded like a body hitting the floor interrupted their viewing party. "Did you hear that," Vogel allegedly asked. Before Hall could answer they both heard someone yelling "Stop!" and "Help!" Vogel said she knew it was one of the boys. She went upstairs to see if they were okay. She knocked on the door. According to Vogel, no one said anything, but she heard a distinct "click" of the door locking. She ran downstairs to call the police.

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2. Phillips's final hours

When the police arrived on the scene, Phillips was still breathing. They immediately called an ambulance. His mother was rushed to the hospital. She sat with her son and watched him go into cardiac arrest. She held him and told him that she loved him. Just hours after he was found by the police, Garrett Phillips died. When examining the body, the medial examiner founde deep bruising around his neck, they also found rug burns on his knees. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the boy was murdered. 


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3. What did the police find?

After going over the house, the police were trying to figure out what and how the murder happened. They swept the room for fingerprints. The chief of police, Mark Murray, noted that everything in the apartment was very clean, even mentioning that Garrett's schedule was displayed prominently on the fridge. He said nothing was out of place in the home, even the shoes that Phillips was wearing that day were taken off and put neatly away, and his skateboard was also put in the spot it belonged. The only sign of physical struggle in the house was that there was a sweatshirt on the floor and the boy's body. 

Then the police noticed that the screen on one of the windows was pushed out. When they looked closer they realized that must be how the murderer escaped. Looking down from the window however they realized that it was a 20 foot jump. It was quite a jump for someone to make, so they imagine that the murderer was someone somewhat athletic. The only problem is, that no one reported seeing anyone jump from the window. Not even the helpful downstairs neighbors. There were people just outside changing a tire who didn't report seeing anyone jump, but they did hear the window screen being pushed out. The police did however find a set of finger prints that didn't belong to any members of the family, and have yet to be identified. 

4. Time for some suspects

After interviewing everyone that knew the boy, the police came to find that the boy was very well-liked. He was popular and outgoing and there are many reports that speak to what a kind young boy he was. There was only one person in the world that he was said not to get along with. That person was Nick Hillary, his mother's ex-boyfriend. Cyrus had broken up with Hillary just months before the death of her son. She ended the relationship due to differences in parenting styles, and the friction between Hillary and Garrett. This led police to quickly, and some may even say too quickly, make Nick Hillary the prime suspect in the murder of Garrett Phillips.

5. Who is Nick Hillary?

Nick Hillary was born in Jamaica in 1974. He immigrated to the united states when he was 16-years-old. He was a gifted soccer player and played in high school and at St. Lawrence College where he lead his team to victory in the National Championship. He took a job down in Florida teaching math until he was eventually hired by Clarkson University in Upstate New York to become their soccer coach. This is where he met Tandy Cyrus. The two were athletic single parents who hit it off right away. However, Hillary who is black, and Cyrus who is white, garnered a lot of attention for relationship, since the town of Potsdam where they lived was primarily white. In fact, 95% of the population of Potsdam, New York is white. With no physical evidence linking Hillary to the case, some people believe the only reason that he is still a suspect is due to the color of his skin.


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6. The trial of Nick Hillary

Nick Hillary was put on trial for the murder of Garrett Phillips. He waved his right to a jury trial and requested that only a judge rule over his innocence or presumed guilt. One of the main parts of his defense was the testimony of his daughter, Shanna Kay. She was her father's alibi. She took the stand saying that the day of the murder she went to school at Potsdam High School. She attended soccer practice and then went home. She said she arrived a little after 4:30. Shanna Kay said that she immediately got into the shower. She said her father knocked on the door and announced he had to run out for a minute. When she got out of the shower some twenty minutes later, he had returned. 

The defense attacked her testimony saying that there was surveillance footage of her leaving the school around 4 o'clock and not 4:30 as she had previously said, putting her home earlier that she testified to. They also dug up earlier interviews she had given saying that she and her father ate dinner around 6pm, but her phone records showed that she texted her father at 6:24 asking him what they would be having for dinner. 

As hard as they tried the judge decided there was not enough evidence to convict Hillary and decided that he should go free. Several relatives of Phillips were brought to tears, some even needing medical attention, over how distraught they were with the ruling. Hillary however, cried tears of joy and hugged his lawyers.

Nick Hillary was found innocent in the eyes of the law, and he cannot be retried for this murder. Prosecutors will not reopen the investigation.

7. What now?

It is going to be hard for Phillip's family to heal after their loss. It will be even harder for them to know that they will likely never know what happened to Garrett on that rainy October evening. On Tuesday July 23, 2019, HBO will release a documentary, detailing the intracacies of the murder of Garrett Phillips, the investigation and then the trial of Nick Hillary. Maybe something will come out that the police missed the first time. Maybe you can figure out who killed Garrett Phillips.


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Kaitlin Kaiser is a writer who writes about love, relationships, self-care, spirituality and astrology.