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Sun., Dec. 28
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Oral ‘Nick’ Hillary renews motion to have papers unsealed in suit against Potsdam

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POTSDAM — Following an indictment charging Oral N. “Nick” Hillary with murdering 12-year-old Garrett J. Phillips, Hillary’s attorney has renewed a motion to have sealed documents in a civil suit against the village opened to the public.

Mani C. Tafari, Queens, claims in a motion in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, that the village is using the confidentiality agreement as “both a sword and a shield” regarding Hillary’s alleged involvement in the death of Garrett Phillips, who was found strangled Oct. 24, 2011 in the youth’s Market Street apartment. Hillary was indicted Thursday on a second-degree murder charge and is being held at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility pending a bail hearing later this month.

In his motion, Mr. Tafari claims that District Attorney Mary E. Rain made statements to the media indicating that information obtained though the civil litigation was used in the criminal investigation against Hillary.

“Based upon this, Mary Rain misleads the public to believe that some piece of evidence was discovered through the instant action to implicate (Hillary) in the murder,” Mr. Tafari wrote to Judge David E. Peebles.

He claims Ms. Rain “wants to deny (Hillary), the public and the media the opportunity to take an educated look at the version of the events and so-called ‘evidence’ that she relies upon to attempt to wrongfully convict (Hillary) in the murder.”

At issue are summary judgment motions filed in Hillary’s defamation suit against the village and its police department in which he claims that his reputation was damaged when police implicated him in the murder in the days after it occurred. Mr. Hillary, Clarkson University’s men soccer coach now on administrative leave, also contends, among other actionable causes in the September 2012 suit, that police illegally detained him in the matter.

The village opposes the motion to unseal documents, contending in a letter from attorney Amanda C. Sherman, Albany, that the case remains an open investigation and that the civil documents “are filled with information contained in the confidential investigative file.”

Also, the papers contain medical reports of a deceased child, Ms. Sherman said. Given the case’s media attention, Ms. Sherman argues that the documents’ public release poses concerns regarding the investigation’s integrity and the prosecution’s ability to draw a jury pool and provide a fair venue if the matter goes to trial.

“Now, more than ever, the sensitive nature of the information contained in the motion and response papers is apparent,” Ms. Sherman wrote to Judge Peebles.

Ms. Sherman argues that, as Hillary has maintained his innocence in the murder, it is in his best interest that the investigation remain open and active.

“(Hillary) chose to bring a civil claim while a criminal investigation into the death of a 12-year-old boy remained open and active,” Ms. Sherman wrote. “It is a disturbing proposition to think that law enforcement and prosecuting authorities would be hindered in their ability to try a case in a particular venue as the result of this.”

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