Trials

Ex-college soccer coach acquitted of killing ex's 12-year-old son

Oral "Nick" Hillary on Sept. 22.

Oral "Nick" Hillary on Sept. 22.  (Brit Hanson/North Country Public Radio via AP, Pool, File)

A black former college soccer coach accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's 12-year-old son was found not guilty Wednesday by a judge.

Oral "Nick" Hillary hugged his lawyer and cried as Judge Felix Catena ruled against prosecutors who bought a second-degree murder charge against Hillary in the October 2011 killing of Garrett Phillips.

Prosecutors relied on circumstantial evidence to make the case that Hillary choked the boy to death in an apartment in Potsdam, a college town near the Canadian border.

Hillary's lawyers argued the case was "riddled with doubt" and repeated the claims of critics who said authorities in the largely white community unjustly prosecuted him.

Hillary was born in Jamaica and first came to northern New York as a standout player at St. Lawrence University. At the time of the killing, he was the head soccer coach at Clarkson University. He and his daughter had lived with Tandy Cyrus and her two sons until the relationship ended in summer 2011.

While prosecutors lacked DNA or fingerprint evidence, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said during closing arguments that he had made a strong case based on evidence that included security camera footage showing the movements of the boy and Hillary on the streets of Potsdam right before the killing.

Hillary lied about his actions and used his daughter to create a fake alibi, said Fitzpatrick, who helped St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain.

Defense attorney Earl Ward argued that Hillary has shown no violent tendencies and questioned the motives of prosecutors.

"They're trying to demonize him in your eyes," Ward told the judge.

The district attorney at the time of the killing never brought charges.

Rain campaigned on the case, though the first murder indictment she secured was dismissed by a judge. She was able to get the current indictment last year.