Onondaga DA among many named in civil rights suit by Nick Hillary, acquitted of murder
Onondaga County and Fitzpatrick were named in the lawsuit filed by Oral "Nick" Hillary, a former Clarkson University soccer coach accused of second-degree murder.
The lawsuit, filed May 15 in the Eastern District of New York, claims Hillary's civil rights were violated during the 2011 homicide investigation.
A St. Lawrence County judge found Hillary not guilty of second-degree murder in September 2016.
In the lawsuit, Hillary argues he was wrongly targeted for the killing of Garret Phillips, 12, while other possible suspects were purposely ignored. The 41-page lawsuit alleges a conspiracy among the St. Lawrence County District Attorney's Office, the sheriff's office, Potsdam police and state police to place blame on Hillary.
Hillary's lawsuit claims officers ignored leads and evidence that pointed toward John E. Jones, a deputy sheriff who also had ties to Phillips, as a possible suspect. It also alleges that St. Lawrence County DA Mary Rain, another defendant in the lawsuit, campaigned with the Phillips' family while vying for the DA position, bringing politics into the case.
Attorneys Amy Marion and Bruce Barket argue Hillary's case was a marred by false arrest, malicious prosecution, falsifying and fabrication of evidence, and the purposeful withholding of exculpatory material.
"The Plaintiff was defamed, suffered stigmatizing-plus injuries related to public humiliation, damage to his reputation, loss of employment, loss of personal associations and loss of the benefits of liberty, and as a result, his rights to due process were thereby violated," the lawsuit states.
Fitzpatrick became a co-prosecutor for the case alongside Rain after she reached out to him for advice, Fitzpatrick told syracuse.com.
Fitzpatrick, traveling 130 miles to work the case, took on more of a leadership role in the prosecution as time went on, giving both the opening and closing statements and handling the bigger witnesses during trial.
Phillips was the son of Tandy Cyrus Collins, Hillary's ex-girlfriend. He was found strangled in his home in October 2011.
Fitzpatrick and Rain argued in front of Judge Felix Catena that the defendant lied about his alibi and should be found guilty, claiming he killed the boy out of jealousy after the relationship ended.
Defense lawyers Peter Dumas, Norman Siegel and Earl Ward stated there were no physical evidence or eyewitnesses to tie Hillary to the murder and, like the lawsuit, that law enforcement targeted Hillary without adequately vetting other suspects.
"I'm not going to pay a dime of taxpayer money defending it," the DA said of the lawsuit. "If I do defend it, I fully expect to be compensated by Mr. Hillary after the lawsuit is thrown out."
Also named as defendants are:
- St. Lawrence County and its District Attorney's office
- Several unnamed St. Lawrence County district attorney's office employees
- Several unnamed St. Lawrence County employees
- St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells
- St. Lawrence County Deputy Sheriff John. E. Jones Jr.
- Several unnamed sheriff's office employees
- Village of Potsdam and its police department
- Former Potsdam police chief Edward Tischler
- Current Potsdam police chief Kevin M. Bates
- Former Potsdam police lieutenant Mark Murray
- Several unnamed Village of Potsdam employees
- New York State Police
- Trooper Gary Snell
- State Police Investigators Theodore Levinson
- Crime Lab Director Ray Wickenheiser
- Director of Biological Science Julie Pizziketti
- Several unnamed New York State Police employees