On Oct. 24, 2011, 12-year-old Garrett Phillips was murdered in his home in Potsdam, a small town in upstate New York. Police quickly zeroed in on a suspect in this unthinkable crime: Oral “Nick” Hillary, a black man in the mostly white community, who was a soccer coach at Clarkson University and the ex-boyfriend of Garrett’s mother, Tandy Cyrus.
From two-time Academy Award-nominee and Emmy-winner Liz Garbus (HBO’s A Dangerous Son and Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper), the absorbing two-part documentary Who Killed Garrett Phillips? looks at the case from the initial investigation through the arrest and numerous legal twists and turns that culminated in Hillary’s trial for murder five years after the crime. The two-part documentary raises troubling questions of racial bias and issues surrounding policing and the criminal justice system.
Who Killed Garrett Phillips? begins with the 2011 murder of 12-year-old Garrett Phillips and subsequent trial for second-degree murder of Clarkson University soccer coach Nick Hillary, a black man living in mostly white Potsdam, NY. The documentary chronicles the five years following the murder, as Garrett’s grief-stricken family and community relentlessly seek justice, and Hillary desperately fights to prove his innocence.
Hillary, who has lost his job, tries to move forward with his life caring for his five children and files a civil case against the Potsdam police department. Mary Rain, the new district attorney, makes it her mission to put Garrett’s murderer behind bars, and Hillary is charged with second degree murder based on testimony given during his civil case. Despite holes in the prosecution’s case, both sides prepare for a bench trial without a jury, as national media attention raises important issues of race and bias in policing.
Through in-depth interviews with a variety of people linked to the case, as well as extensive police audio and video recordings and courtroom footage, Who Killed Garrett Phillips? is a gripping, eye-opening look at how justice is delivered or delayed.
Among those offering insights are: Nick Hillary and his children; lead investigator Mark Murray; Garrett’s uncle, Brian Phillips; Sheriff’s Deputy John Jones, Tandy Cyrus’ other ex-boyfriend; friends of Tandy Cyrus; Mani Tafari and Lisa Marcoccia, friends of Hillary’s, who were an early part of his legal defense team; district attorneys Mary Rain and William J. Fitzpatrick, who led the case against Hillary; lawyers Norman Siegel and Earl Ward, who joined the defense; Ian Fairlie, Hillary’s assistant soccer coach at Clarkson University; local journalists W.T. Eckert and Natasha Haverty, and Jesse McKinley of the New York Times, who followed the case from its inception; neighbors who lived in the same building as Garrett and Tandy Phillips; and many more.
The documentary seeks to uncover the truth behind the tragic murder of a young boy that traumatized a town, the vilification of a black man who was swept up in a quest for justice and the mysteries that remain.
Who Killed Garrett Phillips? is produced and directed by Liz Garbus; produced by Kimberly Launier; written and edited by Karen K.H. Sim; executive producer, Sheila Nevins; senior producer, Nancy Abraham; director of photography, Tony Hardmon; original music by Thomas Rutishauser.